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.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

year's end screenings

We are converging on the Pacific Rim in December. In addition to the Artivist fest, which I mentioned in an earlier post, Tower 37 will be a part of the 2D or not 2D animation festival in Seattle on December 5th. The organizers have been building some online buzz, so I thought I'd chime in too.

Here's their festival trailer:

You can also spend some time on their blog to see what the program's going to contain. I don't think a definitive festival guide has been published online yet... watch for it.

Soon thereafter, one ocean away, Tower 37 will be screening as a part of SIGGRAPH Asia 2009's animation festival. The harddrive I sent them is currently at risk of being orphaned in Japan due to money-saving festival policies, so if you're attending the conference and you live stateside please get in touch. I need a digital mule. Just think - you can help out an animator and have the pleasure of watching a lossless HD QuickTime of Tower 37 on your laptop as you fly over the Pacific. I'm serious.

Here's their trailer as well:

Friday, November 20, 2009

when worlds collide

Our house. Pokemon and Magic cards. Some are in piles, others have been built into decks, some are even special enough to be in protective sleeves. We've purchased and inherited some boxes to hold the most precious of sleeved decks, but they are wearing out and we don't have enough of them anyway. So the talk between my son and I for the last week or so has been about embracing our love of cardboard projects and building some deck boxes of our own (we make lots of cardboard stuff at home, like helmets, little spaceships for mobiles, etc.).

So today I was recycling an old PBR 12-pack holder and I realized I was holding the future in my hands. The cardboard was perfect, just like that in our favorite commercial cardboard "Dragon Shield" boxes:

We got two of those DS boxes when we bought sleeves a while ago and they've been the best. But today we took one apart so we could clone it. If you love something, set it free.

In case you want to follow along with us, we first laid the unfolded DS box out flat on top of the unfolded PBR box and traced it carefully. Then, using a utility knife and a ruler (be sure to have something underneath), we cut along all the lines.

The cardboard was too thick to fold cleanly without scoring first, so we studied the creases in the DS box for some inspiration. It looked like they had been scored with a heavy but relatively dull object run along the printed side of the cardboard. We tried ballpoint pens (worked okay, but left a mark), a fork (too blunt and boxy, ripped the cardboard), until finally using some crazy kitchen fork that I think is for lobster. It's a two-tined thing, and sharp as anything, but the back sides of the tines were rounded and about the right size for the score we wanted. Pushing hard against the edge of a ruler worked perfectly. The only struggle I had was keeping the lines perfectly parallel while scoring, but despite my eyeballing it the sides met just fine in the end. I was worried it would be seriously lopsided.

Turning the prepped cardboard into a box requires adhesive on one cardboard flap. We tried two ways of using Elmer's glue on test pieces: straight on the printed side of the cardboard in one case, and in the other we carefully stripped off the printed layer so we were gluing to the rougher cardboard that lives underneath. After both dried for a while, they both seemed strong but we liked the latter approach best. Our final box is drying now, but here's what it looked like just before gluing:

Oh yeah. Green. Crafty. Hip. Geeky. Though I'm not sure I'm ready to let my 8-year old out into the world with it yet.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

catch me if you can

Okay, so it was just over two weeks ago that I blogged about my new Pixelbending class. You'll have to forgive me, that was something of a FlashForward. So it's not that the post is wrong, per se, it's just that it was a few months too early.

My real spring 2010 class just went online today. It will be a departure for me in many ways, but a return to my roots in others. Here are the details:
Improving TheHub (CS 214)

TheHub is a critical online tool supporting the academic program at Hampshire. Not only is it the primary mechanism by which our Divisional contracts and narrative evaluations are created, edited, and shared, but it is also where important aspects of registration and advising take place. Despite its ubiquity and importance, however, TheHub can be frustrating for many to use.

This course seeks to improve TheHub through a unique collaboration between students, faculty, and staff. In addition to learning how TheHub is currently implemented, students will be tasked to identify areas of TheHub most in need of improvement and to propose, design, implement, and test new interfaces for these areas.

Ideal candidates for this one-of-a-kind course will have a background in design (color theory, graphic design, HTML, studio arts, etc.) or programming (PHP, Perl, AJAX, Javascript, etc.) or both. For programmers, concurrent enrollment in CS 272 (Advanced Web Design) will satisfy the programming pre-requisites for this course. Prospective students should bring a current resume and a portfolio of their relevant work to Professor Perry no later than the first class meeting.
Those following my teaching history should recognize that this is another collaborative class, akin to the animation courses that produced Displacement and Tower 37 in the past. Fairly new to me is the domain: although I've worked on large-scale software projects in the past, and of course have a hand in the ongoing development of Helga, interface design for a heavily-trafficked and mission-critical web tool like TheHub is going to demand some stretching. And some smart partnering: I will be co-teaching the class with the original engineer of TheHub, and I'm hoping to fold experienced guests in as we work to meet the challenge of the class.

This class offers a rare opportunity for students to be a part of a team whose work can actually change how Hampshire functions day-to-day. We are not going to be changing policies, of course, but we are going to investigate how our current tool does--and does not--support students and faculty working together.

How you can help now, dear reader, is to tell the most talented designers and programmers you know about this course and encourage them to discuss their participation with me.

And please start thinking about how you would like to see TheHub change, particularly in the areas directly related to the academic program (advising, evaluations, course registration, course listings, etc). Feel free to start sharing them here as comments, or wait for the site we'll be launching in the spring to collect these ideas.

Pixelbenders: apologies for now. I am working to fold that course in to next year's curriculum.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Artivist fest coming up

Excitement is building for the Artivist Film Festival in LA in early December. Of all the fests Tower 37 has been a part of so far, I think this one has the potential to have the greatest thematic alignment with our film. We're part of a Thursday night Environmental shorts program with four other films. And in other news, there are apparently FREE tickets. That's right folks, free tickets. So drag your friends out to the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on Thursday December 3 and show your support for socially-conscious filmmaking. If you find it hard to show support without coughing up money for tickets, then buy some drinks for the filmmakers afterward and have long conversations about the work. You can also high-five Tower 37 producer Daniel when you're there.

Today, by the way, marks exactly seven months since Tower 37 began its festival run in April in Providence. Given that most fests are annual, we're looking at only about five more months in our festival year. I have been amazed by how our film has been received on this journey so far; here's hoping for five more months of memorable screenings, stories, and revels with the filmmakers we meet on the way.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

news I find tragic

"Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget."
- motto of the USS New York

So I heard on the news yesterday that the new USS New York warship, now berthed in New York, includes 7.5 tons of steel recycled from the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Boy do I wish that material could have been put to a peaceful use instead of being folded into yet another machine of war. And what are the chances that this San Antonio class "Landing Platform Dock" ship will ever drop Marines on a beach in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden or any of the perpetrators of 9/11? Afghanistan is still landlocked. Can't there be a better legacy for those poor victims than more death?

Monday, October 26, 2009

3 in NYC wrapup

The streets of NYC were crawling with Tower 37 fans these last weeks, that is, if you count me and a small crew huddling down in the rain on our walk to the amazing subterranean restaurant Sakagura on 43rd Street. This was after the outstanding BeFilm New Fall Animation screening, hosted by Signe Baumane, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

Since then, Tower 37 was a part of the Imagine Science Fest, HDFest in NYC, the Austin Film Festival, and the 15 Short Film Festival. I have heard only a bit about some of these fests, and nothing at all about the others! So this is kind of a small review, and in fact, most of it will come from the emails I received from Tower 37 crew member Jasper who was able to attend the two NYC events I couldn't be at.

His review of the Imagine Science screening:
i just got back from the imagine science film festival screening in brooklyn, and i'm happy to report it went really well. the "fantasy, imagination, and experimental" theme made for a very interesting program...a nice mix of about 1/3rd live-action, narrative films, 1/3rd animated shorts, and 1/3rd experimental, mixed-medium films. tower 37 screened third to last, and was very well recieved. galapagos, the art space where the screening was held, has a very casual table and booth seating arrangement, so there was some noticeable chatting and clinking drinks from the bar heard throughout the evening...but amazingly, as soon as tower 37 began rolling, the crowd got noticeably quiet. it was a really exciting effect to see and hear the entire room silent with tension during the film's most suspenseful and emotional scenes. when the credits rolled there was a tremendously positive round of applause. after the screening, there was an informal q&a, which i (excitedly, albeit nervously) took part in. the director and lead actor of the film "the strange rebirth of andre weil" were the only other filmmakers who took part. i got a chance to give a quick rundown of the history and details of the production, squeezed in some mentions of some past and upcoming festival appearances, and then they opened it up to the audience for questions. after a brief (awkward) pause, when it became clear no one might ask a question, a stranger in the front row instead shouted out "we loved it!" which led to another larger round of applause. alexis and kate (artistic director and programming director, respectively), the two organizers in charge, spoke really highly of our film and sent their regards to you. i thanked them multiple times, and congratulated them on a very interesting program and festival. i had a few strangers congratulate our film as i made my way out of the venue. all in all a very good night...sorry you couldn't have seen it, but i'm glad to have the chance to represent the film.
I'm sad to say that Jasper's experience at HDFest was less positive. I'll paraphrase: the film didn't screen until one of the people there asked about it during the Q&A. The moderator claimed a "technical issue" (the details of which have yet to be explained to me) but then said it would screen, and it did, but only after many people left. As a consolation, they said they'd program it in the next night's animation show. I haven't heard from anyone how that went, or if it went at all.

Has anyone seen the film in Austin, or at the 15 Short Film Fest? Sorry to blog questions to the void but I'm hoping (like the Mosaic project in FlashForward - yay JB and DG) that someone will stumble onto this and fill me in about the things I know very little about.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pixelbending, or CS 222: Digital Image Mastery

I am very pleased to announce a new class I'll be teaching in the spring, targeted at media makers who want to get the most out of their pixels. Here's the description from the Hampshire course catalog:
Digital Image Mastery: Under the Hood of Modern Filmmaking

With an affordable digital camera and simple editing software, anyone can be an image maker. But what does it take to be an image master? How does one take control over the images and films one makes rather than ceding it to the engineers of the software and hardware?

This course is designed for students who seek mastery over the digital images they create, capture, edit, and/or distribute. The class will expose the foundational core that hides behind the interfaces of digital imaging and filmmaking technologies but which is crucial to using them with precision and finesse. Topics that may be covered include digital image representation, compression/decompression (codecs), frame rate changes, compositing, matting, tracking, color correction, color grading, and more.

PRE-REQUISITE: an evaluation/passing grade from least one digital media production class (film, video, animation, photography)
I blog about classes like this because the descriptions can only say so much. Basically, are you an image maker who feels like the tools are in charge of you instead of the other way around? If you are, and if you want to invert that relationship, then this is probably the class for you. We'll expose the inner workings of modern digital imaging technologies with an eye towards solving visual problems.

Although the language in the description waffles between film making and more general image making, I would guess that about 2/3 of the material we cover will apply to digital image making of any kind. The last third will probably be more directly related to image sequences, aka time-based digital imaging, aka digital film/video.

So I'm on the hunt for tasty exercises that are based on real problems and whose solutions emerge from a clear understanding of (and control over) the fundamentals. Readers of this blog will probably understand why I will be sure to have a frame rate conforming exercise in there. And others who know me will understand when I add a problem related to the plague known as matte lines.

What problems do YOU face that have solutions buried in the foundations of digital media? What was it that you learned about codecs and bit depth and color grading and the like that revolutionized the way you make work?

Feel free to offer your suggestions and/or ask questions about the class by posting comments. I'll respond to them that way as well.

And big thanks to K.C. Line for the real name of this class: pixelbending. More like waterbending than circuit bending, mind you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

0 screens!

Wonderful world. I think less than 48 hours after my small rant about huge openings, I stumbled into, a website that, when completed, will put filmmakers directly in touch with their audiences. Forget about the openings: if fans want to see your movie, they can arrange their own screenings. It feels a little like Netflix meets social networking. Maybe that's an awful comparison, so I'll let you read about it and come up with a better description.

OpenIndie's home page
The KickStarter page where you can help OpenIndie raise $10,000 and get started

Pass the word.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

3700 screens?

I confess that I have a big distaste for absurdly huge opening weekends. Where the Wild Things Are, on 3700+ screens? As excited as I might be (or might have been) about seeing the film, I am certainly going to wait at least a week to let the hubris of that move wash away a little. It's like the guy showing up at the party in a limo. Maybe he's an okay guy, but showing up in a limo is just trying to get attention.

If the demand were somehow there for 3700 screens, then it would make more sense. But does it feel to anyone else like a desperate attempt to cash in early? Why not buy up all the screens and ensure that whoever sees a movie this weekend sees your movie?

In contrast, let me draw your attention to The Adventures of Power. A feature by an old high school friend being released on a super small scale. One week in NYC, one week in LA, one week in Austin, etc. It looks to me like the film is going to build up some momentum and a demand greater than the small screenings can accommodate, then burst on the seen in large enough release to meet the demand. The small shows are parties, events, befitting their relative rarity - not cattle calls like the dozens of screenings of Wild Things this weekend at the local multiplex. Seeing Power is a special event. Go find a screening near you.

On the even smaller release front, Tower 37 was part of a great show on Thursday in New York hosted by Signe Baumane and sponsored by BeFilm. Many of the films were familiar from Woodstock and other venues, but on the new front, I truly enjoyed the Argentinian short El Empleo. There are three other screenings in the coming week, one in North Carolina and two more in NYC. Check them out!

Monday, October 5, 2009

multi-festival wrap up

The Woodstock Film Festival was outstanding. The crew and I entered the weekend fairly ignorant of the town, the festival, and the laws of the state of New York concerning the transportation of humans and alcohol in the same vehicle (no citations were issued in the end). But we left feeling very much in the know, re-inspired about independent film, and excited to return. From literally our first moments at Taco Juan's where we collided with Bill Plympton and a subset of the NYC animation crowd to our last, eating (more) amazing sandwiches at Maria's, we were surrounded by fun, creative people, lots of movies, and music. Whoa was there music, mostly in lieu of sleep.

Some of animation's finest young talent making music late night at the WFF.

I want to mention some of the amazing films from the WFF, as well as some of the filmmakers who we enjoyed hanging out with. Highlights of the animation show that I hadn't seen before included The Man in the Blue Gordini, Backwards, and The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9. It was also great to finally meet the two programmers, Bill and Signe, whose work I have admired and who have been directly responsible for sharing The Incident at Tower 37 with many new audiences recently. Like the Martha's Vineyard festival crowd. I was pleased to hear from those who attended the MVFF, namely Bill, Signe, and Backwards's Aaron and Lisa that Tower 37 was quite well-received by the audiences there. Maybe Islanders are extra-sensitive to water issues?

More shouts out to other late-night festival friends from WFF: Joey from Sundial Pictures (our adopted tour guide in Woodstock); Joy, Noel (Twins Are Weird) and James who animated the great WFF trailer; and long-time friend J. Markus from RoboFresh who we hadn't seen and jammed with in far too long. Stay in touch, everyone.

The past month also included the Moondance Film Fest, another 10th anniversary festival like the WFF. I regret that my commitment to Moondance was less than it could have been because I was too excited to spend time with my family in Boulder, but I was glad to have seen a few shows and to have spent an evening talking with Ryan and Jonah, the filmmakers behind Living Death Valley. It was an inspired programming choice by the Moondance folks, in my opinion, to couple our animated narrative fantasy with their live action non-fiction "portrait of a landscape" (my own term) given the two films' thematic connections.

Some other Moondance selections we enjoyed were the wild live-action/animation combo short called Elephants and the hilarious live-action dog film called The Littlest Greyhound. I was very happy to hear that Tower 37 was awarded the Moondance Calypso award, the description of which (from their website) is:
This award is to encourage a spirit of enterprise in saving the environment, habitats and wildlife by creative individuals from around the world. The award is presented to the person who expands knowledge of our world, seeks to improve our quality of all life on the planet, and contributes to the betterment of humankind.
You can't beat that! We were also acknowledged as one of the three Audience Favorites for Animation. Thanks to all who came, saw, and supported our film.

I will end this post about the past by looking ahead yet again. Three NYC screenings are in the works for the next few weeks. You all should go. I can't promise late-night music but I am quite sure they will each be outstanding programs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PLUG: "Creating Memorable Images"

I'm very pleased to announce an upcoming talk by former Pixar colleague and friend Sharon Calahan. I was a student of Sharon's during the production of A Bug's Life, and I have used her teaching materials in my own classes, such as the chapter called "Storytelling Through Lighting" from the Advanced RenderMan textbook.

That chapter appears oddly-situated, a visual and non-technical treatise hidden deep in a book rich with SL programming tips and renderer architecture insights. This talk is similar in its contextual placement: although sponsored by the School of Cognitive Science at Hampshire (and by me, arguably a computer animation professor), it will be very much a talk about live action film visuals. There are no Pixar productions on the long list of films she is drawing from, and I don't think she'll say a word about render times, shadow maps, or RenderMan bugs.

Please don't be distracted by this disciplinary cross-pollination. The tools of computer animation are just another set of tools for making films, after all, so it is logical for someone working as a Director of Photography anywhere to draw from the larger history of cinema. If you've been in any of my classes, you know that computer animators (in the broadest sense) are simultaneously--by necessity--students of image making and computation. I am pleased, proud, and lucky that Hampshire has continued to see value in a program that mixes these disciplines regularly, and I am excited that Sharon is coming to share her insights with all of us.


Sharon Calahan, Director of Photography at Pixar Animation Studios, will be speaking at Hampshire College on Wednesday, October 7th at 6pm.

"Creating Memorable Images"

Why do certain images linger in our memories long after watching a film? Calahan will explore this question using a collection of favorite film images from over 70 years of filmmaking and over 80 films. She will share how she thinks about light and color in the creation of beautiful images that emotionally support the story of a film.

LOCATION: Franklin Patterson Hall, Main Lecture Hall, Hampshire College

SPONSORED BY: The School of Cognitive Science, Hampshire College

ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Sharon Calahan joined Pixar Animation Studios in 1994 as lighting supervisor on the studio’s first feature film, Toy Story. She then served as director of photography on A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo. She was the director of photography on Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille, which won an Academy® Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Calahan is currently working on Cars 2.

Calahan knew at the age of three that she wanted to be an artist for Disney. She went on to study graphic design, illustration and photography. Following art school, she began her career as an art director for broadcast television and video production. Prior to joining Pixar, she was a lighting director at Pacific Data Images completing commercial work, longer format television, and graphics packages.

Calahan has given numerous presentations and taught many classes in character lighting, shot lighting, master lighting, and, more generally, painting with light and overall composition, both at Pixar as well as outside of the studio.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

4 weekends of 37

Reminder: the Bit Films Fall Internship application deadline is next Monday, September 14th, at 5pm Eastern time! The application information can be found here.

Some Tower 37 screening dates at upcoming festivals have been pinned down (full schedule here):
(* we'll be in attendance!)

Unlike most fests, Moondance (Boulder) has our film programmed with a feature instead of with a bunch of shorts. The feature (Living Death Valley) looks like a captivating 40 minute journey through Death Valley, California which I think will make for a great pairing with our short.

Also, a lovely little review came from the folks at the Animation Show. It would be fun to be a part of their traveling program.

Monday, September 7, 2009

more fall details for Valley animators

I wanted to announce as widely as possible a number of exciting opportunities for Pioneer Valley animators and animation students this fall. There are an unusually large number of unique offerings for advanced-level students this term, a change that I'm quite pleased about.

One quick note: if you want to be kept aware of the most current animation-related information at Hampshire and beyond, please sign yourself up for the animation mailing list that I maintain (go to

1) Computer Animation I (Hampshire CS 174), Chris Bishop. TTH 2:00-3:20pm.
2) Animation Fundamentals (UMASS ART 297Q), Patricia Galvis-Assmus. TTH 1:00-3:45pm
3) Intro Computer Animation (UMASS ART 374), Jed Mitchell. MW 10:10am-12:05pm

1) Character Animation (UMASS CMPSCI 397E), Beverly Woolf. MW 7pm-8:30pm

1) Animation Workshop (Hampshire CS 203), Chris Perry. Weds 9-11:50am.
This class is tailored to 2nd and 3rd year students with animation experience who want to produce their own short animation projects over the course of one term. Think of it as a mini Div-III/BFA experience that will help prepare you for that eventual hurdle.

2) Bit Films Internships (at Hampshire's Computer Graphics Incubator Space). Days and times TBD.
Talented students looking to work on ongoing high-end collaborative animation projects should apply. The official internship posting is up at Application deadline September 14th!

3) TA positions. Chris Bishop, teaching CS 174 at Hampshire, is seeking qualified TAs for Computer Animation I.

As you might expect, there will be competition for many of these positions. Please be sure to contact the individual instructor of a class to find out how he or she handles enrollment, etc.

Feel free to email me with questions, and thanks in advance for sharing this information with your students/friends!

Saturday, September 5, 2009


We have two screenings at Woodstock next month, one late on Friday night and one on Saturday afternoon. The Tower 37 calendar has been updated and you can see the Woodstock schedule for details.

I'm pleased to report that the line up for the animation show includes no films we've screened with before (though some that will be in the Martha's Vineyard program next weekend). I'm also happy with the mix of animation types based on the little thumbnails for each movie.

Some quick scanning of the festival program includes Mighty Uke, a documentary about the Ukulele which I really want to check out. More Than a Game, about LeBron James and his high school team. And Jonathan Demme's Neil Young Trunk Show looks exciting too. And that's just a sampling from the documentary section. I think we'll have a very full weekend.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for 9pm on Saturday night ($75). And the Bit Films party? Not telling.

Monday, August 31, 2009

the fall of tower 37

An absolutely insane fall is shaping up for "The Incident at Tower 37," with almost daily news coming in on the festival front. The result is that I am drowning in duplicated information: from the press kit to the online calendar to the Bit Films website, I find that it's almost impossible to keep all the documents up-to-date and accurate with screening dates and locations. And I thought having a Twitter account would help. Ha! That's just a fourth place for things to be omitted.

But it's all really good news, despite my bitching. Like today, when out of the blue comes an email saying that Bill Plympton and Signe Baumane have selected our film to be a part of their "Animation Gala" at the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival next weekend. The subtitle of the show: Best animated shorts from around the world. I'm not kidding. I suspect that Bill and Signe saw the film as a part of their animation programming responsibilities for the Woodstock Film Festival (coming the first week of October) and must have liked it enough to fold it in to this other show they're creating.

Speaking of Woodstock, there will be a strong Bit Films crowd making a weekend out of the festival. If you're heading that way, let me know. I suspect we'll be having a little gathering to celebrate the event.

So yes, the fall is sick. If I say the film will be coming to a theater near you, I might actually be right for once! As of this writing, the following cities will be hosting a screening in the remainder of 2009: Linz (Austria), Martha's Vineyard, Springfield (Illinois), Madrid, Boulder (CO), Woodstock (NY), Charlotte (NC), New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Yokohama. And there are still other fests we're waiting to hear from. If you're in one of these places, check out the calendar or email me for screening details.

Yikes. I put zero links into this post. Okay, here's one: the updated Tower 37 page on the Bit Films site, which links to all the aforementioned fests. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

fall preview

I've been deliberately silent. Think of it as an August hibernation. Eating, resting, spending time with friends and family (that's Noe working the T37 hat) before the onset of September and all that comes with it. For those in the academic life, you know what I'm talking about.

This year is a little different from the usual start-of-term, however, because Tower 37 is still very much in play on the festival circuit and that will keep things extra busy. There are already going to be a bunch of screenings of the film with many more fests still holding back on their selection lists. The calendar has the most current details, of course.

There will be a second round of Bit Films Internships, to be announced sometime in early September.

I'm teaching only half-time. My one course in the fall is called Animation Workshop, and for those at Hampshire who are curious about the class you can think of it as a Division III training camp. Or a mini Div III. Basically, I see the course as an opportunity for pre-Div III students to learn the ropes of conceiving of, proposing, pursuing, and completing a project within a finite amount of time. It meets Wednesday mornings. Anticipating a common question: yes, I would be happy for students to collaborate on a project in the course.

The Animation I class will be in the able hands of Hampshire alum, Tower 37 collaborator, and Beijing celebrity teacher Chris Bishop.

I will continue to research and develop the still-untitled feature project that I began this summer, and I'm looking forward to contributing more to Evan and Chris's ongoing short production that's been making great strides in the past few months.

Oh, and Mars isn't all that close tonight after all. So get to bed.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

SIGGRAPH wrap-up

SIGGRAPH was like the anti-Palm Springs because instead of getting food poisoning, I ate like a king the entire time. Red beans and rice late on my first night was followed by crawfish etouffee, chicken and sausage gumbo, blackened catfish, jambalaya, shrimp creole and more. I bought no food at the convention center the entire time. While I didn't go in with that as a rule, I think I'm going to follow it at future SIGGRAPHs. At least the ones that offer brilliant grub just a short walk away.

It was a very unbalanced fest for The Incident at Tower 37, given the two Monday screenings back to back followed by (at least for this attendee) no further animation screenings for the rest of the week. But those two shows were quite good. Highlights included Love_Child, Anima, and Alarm. The Nominees screening was more crowded than the Young at Heart show that followed, and unfortunately there was a lot of overlap between the shows. I think that's largely why I opted out of the festival for the remaining days.

We unveiled some new Bit Films gear, from the stickers to the extra-cool Operator hats (from the film) that Jake designed and ordered. Courtesy of Jake and Taryn, I have the following two images to share:

Watching Bassam and Jarred man the Blender booth all day then stay up doing production all night was painful, but somehow they kept smiling throughout their lack of sleep. I was happy I could swing in periodically and help them wrangle their renders through the Hampshire farm. The last thing I saw as I left the floor was a silent version of the new teaser, and it looked great. No new post about it yet on the Tube site, but I'm sure one will come soon.

Helga was the focus of many New Orleans conversations as well. Brian and I met at the bar of Mulate's to discuss the division of future Helga labors, only to be interrupted by a Laika R&D guy who had been eavesdropping on our talk from the seat next to us. He had some great suggestions -- thanks, Tony! We also connected with Mark from Animux (who also had great suggestions) and look forward to a potential future collaboration with his team.

One other quick note: Please, RenderMan team at Pixar, please inject more images and movies into your presentations for future User's Group meetings. I'm as geeky as they come, but I still had to fight sleep through slide after slide of SL code. Of course the Stupid RenderMan Tricks were, as always, awesome.

Friday, July 31, 2009

This week at the Nerd-O-Drome

In the hope of increasing the visibility of our little studio, I've asked the Bit Films Intern Supervisors (myself included) to gather some bit of production news from this week of work and let me throw it up on a blog post.

Cornucopia (Perry)
One big piece of news is that we've moved from "untitled feature project" to a acceptable working title. Eric and I finished the first complete draft of the film's treatment, and though it's full of problems, it's exciting to see it from beginning to end. Interns Marcel and Leo have been cranking out beautiful visual work that have really made the environments come to life. I've been working on some simple boards. Here are a few samples for you to enjoy:

a concept painting of the junkyard (Leo)

a concept painting of a growing vine (Marcel)

a rough board from act I (Perry)

Caldera (Viera & Bishop)
Team Caldera had a productive week. the last of the boards were drawn, the first render test was completed, and progress continued on layout and character modeling. Here are some images from the week:

a render of the cove environment (Viera, cove model by Jake)

an act III storyboard (Bishop)

Tube (Kurdali)
Bassam's got his own blog for the Tube project, and he provided a timely post today that covers his team's progress this week.

Other Interesting Stuff
Studio-wide, we also made major advances this week on launching Blender and After Effects renders from Helga. We have yet another new system for launching a general render, and this one seems to be the most functional yet. Heck, it can even handle the annoying stuff that has to happen to get aerender to actually render (please, Adobe folks who might be reading: make aerender actually launch from the command-line without needing any window server connections). More on this as it develops.

Also, excitement builds for next week's SIGGRAPH conference, where at least four of our summer crew will be relocating for the week. So things may be quieter than usual in the 'drome.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Excitement and frustration both as we prep for SIGGRAPH next week.

The excitement comes with the pending prize announcement (the student prize winner will be announced at the beginning of Monday August 3rd's Evening Theater screening). That same night, watch for the late-night Bit Films party; follow us on Twitter with your phone to catch the late-breaking announcement of when and where.

Be on the lookout for some new Bit Films schwag in New Orleans as well.

The frustration comes in that despite the nomination we have only two screenings during the week, and they're in the middle of the day on Monday. They've been added to the calendar.
TO BE CLEAR: The Incident at Tower 37 will be screening exactly twice at SIGGRAPH, in back-to-back programs during the day on Monday August 3rd.
The first show is a reel made up of all the award nominees (not just the student prize nominees, either). I'm going to guess that it'll be well-attended since it's the only time all week you can catch the nominees at one time. The second screening on Monday is a program called "Young at Heart." I'd like to see it too, but I'd also like to eat before the Evening Theater and the night of parties that follows. It's not unusual for me to be running entirely on fumes by the end of SIGGRAPH; looks like that might start earlier this year.

You may also find it playing in the Autodesk booth on the exhibition floor, but I certainly would try to catch one of the higher-quality screenings on Monday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

fall fest announcements

The fall schedule is beginning to get exciting. Tower 37 will be in the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, the Woodstock Film Festival in NY, and the Route 66 Film Festival in IL. All have been added to the calendar and will get more specific screening information once it is available.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

new Bit Films website, Tower 37 snippet

I'm pleased to report the launch of the new Bit Films website, with a sleeker design, higher-quality videos, and a short snippet from Tower 37 to satisfy those who keep asking me "when can we see some of the film online?"

The new site also directs more attention toward the best sources for late-breaking Bit Films news, namely, this blog and the bitfilms twitter account.

Many thanks to Evan Viera, Dan Gilbert, and Ben Fiske for their help making this happen!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Laboratory Films shuts down

I received an email today saying that the first Laboratory Films production has been shut down. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to do some google searching and check for cached pages, since I think the "Pathfinder" (Twowan) for the production has done a remarkable, almost eerie, job of cleaning up after himself.

One part of his email motivated me to comment here:
If this production system does not require monetary capital, it does need great amounts of trust capital (goodwill). We need a massive amount of enthusiasm from a great number of artists right from day one. Being an unknown, whatever I do, I can never generate this amount of trust. Therefore, I would need a partner with an international filmmaking name who would bring credence to the enterprise.

I don't concur with this assessment. I avoided the project not because Twowan was an unknown, but because he worked so deliberately to keep himself (and the project) unknown. What I mean by this is that instead of making the work and himself and the project as visible as possible, it was kept secretive. The whole thing had a deceptive vibe surrounding it, when I think it needed more of a grass-roots, communal energy.

I would have voted for open, open, open. Put the work of the artists online, make it easy for people to see and get excited about the film. SHOW the progress and let the strength of the work do your recruiting for you.

But what about protecting intellectual property? Use an open source or CC license, even one of the most restrictive ones! This would allow for work to be posted publicly without fear. It would be foolish (and illegal) for someone or some corporation to take the work and then try to turn their own profit on it. And it would yell out trust rather than privacy and fear.

I watched the Laboratory Films project closely and with excitement. I'm sorry to see this iteration fail, but I hope there are future versions to observe and, possibly, contribute to.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Palm Springs part 2 (guest author)

Palm Springs, California...known for it's world class golf courses, it's intense heat, and it's film festival. I had the pleasure of experiencing two of these three things this past weekend along with fellow Tower 37 crew member Andrew Flanagan. It was 112 degrees in Palm Springs when we arrived, which is simply oppressive (I don't care about what anyone says about it being a dry heat, 112 degrees is 112 degrees any way you slice it). So what better way to spend the afternoon then inside an air conditioned theater?

We got our tickets, got our popcorn and got in line for the Amazing Animation shorts screening. The original plan was to come, see the film, and head back to Los Angeles, however while on line I received a call from a festival official asking if I was going to be attending the awards ceremony later that evening. To say this piqued my interest would be an understatement and I graciously accepted the two complimentary tickets to the event they offered to me. The line than began to move and we were let into the theater.

The theater itself was very nice, the screen was a little bit smaller than the one that I saw the film on in Newport Beach but no less nice. Within 10 minutes the theater was filled, not a single seat left empty and after some perfunctory opening remarks from a festival volunteer they dimmed the light and the projector came on. The first thing to come up was the festival introduction video, a whimsical piece about the filmmaking process that could only be described as video mixed media. Check it out here.

The Amazing Animation block of films contained some of the most impressive animated shorts I have ever seen and it was a real honor to be selected to screen alongside them. It was a very international screening, with the nine films screened representing seven countries: Spain, Mexico, Switzerland, France, England, Germany and the USA.

My favorite films of the series were "Alma" a CG animated modern fairy tale about a girl drawn to a mysterious doll that looks just like her (check out a clip here), the film was dark and atmospheric and genuinely creepy. Another great short was "Apple of My Eyes" a whimsical and sexy rotoscoped piece about a woman and the four inch tall man who lives in her apartment whom she is involved with romantically. Then there was "French Roast" (check out a clip here), a very fun short about a rich man at a coffee shop who forgets his wallet and the chaos that ensues as he tries to figure out how to pay. It was very well constructed, playing out almost entirely from the same angle.

Then, there was the screening of Tower 37, which went fantastic. Nothing is better than watching the film with an attentive audience. Laughs and giggles accompanied Operator's big reveal and the dud bomb exploding, they were transfixed as Leed swam around the pitcher, audible gasps could be heard as Operator slipped almost falling on Leed, and an eerie silence feel over the crowd as they watched the tower come down. A brief Q&A followed the screening and I talked about how the story evolved during production and talked about the benefits to having your composer be an active part of your production process long before picture is locked.

The closing night award ceremony started almost immediately after the end of our Q&A. We moved into a larger theater that was as packed as the one we had just left and Andrew and I found seats in the back right up against the wall. The ceremony started up and they got right to the first award, which just happened to be the Best Student Animation. They started by awarding the runner up, which went to "The Incredible Story of My Great Grandmother Olive," and then they announced the winner...


Boy, my heart was racing as I made my way down the theater and up to the stage. I know I made a thank you that Andrew would later tell me was very good...but I can't really remember what I said all that clearly...really, what I remember most of all was crossing the stage to the podium and repeating in my head over and over "don't trip, don't trip, don't trip!"

You can check out pictures of the awards ceremony on the Palm Springs ShortFest website. As Chris pointed out, according to the captions on the photos taken of me at the awards ceremony, the Fest seems to think I am Estephan Wagner, director of the Best Student Documentary. In most situations I would be somewhat annoyed by this, except I appear to be making really goofy faces in the photos, so let the public think that's Estephan.

The festival handed out around 25 more awards that night and screened a few more shorts, including the 25 minute animated film "Lost and Found" which is based on the children's book of the same name. The film tells the story of a little boy who attempts to return a seemingly lost penguin to the arctic. The film was really wonderful. Check out the trailer here.

After the ceremony, Andrew and I headed to the after party which was held poolside at the swanky Ace Hotel. A couple fish tacos later it was time for us to start the long drive back to Los Angeles. Even though I was only there for a few hours, my experience at the Palm Springs ShortFest was fantastic.


(by Daniel)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

one half of a Palm Springs summary

The Palm Springs Shortfest has come and gone, and with it went months of my very own carefully-cultivated stomach bacteria. Yes, I was taken down mid-fest by what I still hold was food poisoning, but which I hear could have been just some bad water. Although the causes may differ, the results were the same. Happily, now that I've returned home I've yogurted my way to a fresh new set of active cultures and once again feel (mostly) human.

This is the dark half of what I hope will be a two-part PS festival review. I am counting on Daniel to provide the brighter half. This will also be the short half, since I made it to exactly one screening (Art Attack, which was awesome, by the way).

What? You didn't even attend your own screening?

Yes, I have to register one complaint with the festival organizers: the policy to release screening dates and times only two weeks before the festival worked against this particular filmmaker's budget and schedule. Needing to make affordable travel plans from the east coast, but being unable to attend the entire festival and thus guarantee attendance at my own show, I had to guess at a reasonable 4-day window and cross my fingers.

Well, when the news came in that our film was showing twice, I was ecstatic. That is, until I scrolled further down and saw that the first screening was a few hours before I was scheduled to land on Wednesday, and the second would be a few hours after I would leave on Sunday. Alas. So once I arrived I asked around about our first show. Steven Vander Meer, the maker of the wonderful film More From Life, had been at the show and said that Tower 37 was well received. He actually joked that this was his third time seeing it, having been at the Humboldt Film Fest back in April as well!

So while I don't have a lot of festival stories to tell, my son Jordy and I did get to watch a few films in the marketplace room (very well-organized though we found it was hard to hold on to a viewing station very long) and we sure got to swim a lot before I fell ill. And I have to note how grateful I was to have Mom show up just in time for me to be bed-ridden. She signed up for a vacation and instead got to take care of both me and Jordy. Sorry, Ka.

I'm going to leave the rest to Daniel. But I have to say, just look at the resemblance between this guy Wagner (from the PS photos pages) and our very own producer! It's uncanny, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

excitement building for hot climates

Heading to Palm Springs tomorrow for waterslides, desert heat, and of course the Palm Springs Shortfest. And today the SIGGRAPH crew posted the screening schedule for New Orleans later this summer.

It's the same every night, just with a different order. So, to the Bit Films crew: Monday August 3rd seems like the night to celebrate our nomination. That's the evening when awards will be handed out, and even if we don't get one, it will be great to see the films and share some drinks with the other filmmakers on the first night of screenings. Anyone interested should start looking for a great venue to converge upon after the show and send me your ideas! We'll make an official choice and share the word here or elsewhere.

If you're near Palm Springs this week, come find us.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

thanks, Humboldt!

Got a great prize package in the mail yesterday from the organizers of the Humboldt Film Festival (where we won Best Animation). And yes, in addition to a cool trophy, check, and certificate, it DID come with 400 feet of color 16mm stock!

I am currently entertaining what to do with the stock, since I've never shot 16mm in my life. Maybe I'll donate it to an animation student in the fall? Contact me if you're interested.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Palm Springs later this month

I'm happy to report our film's inclusion in the Palm Springs International Shortfest later this month. It will be hot and busy and exciting, and even though I'll be in town for neither of our screenings I will be there for many of the ones in between. If you're nearby and want to lounge by the pool or see some films, get in touch.

I would also like to report the creation of a bit films Twitter account (follow bitfilms) which I will also use to update people on the film's (and the studio's) progress.

Monday, June 1, 2009

It's internship start week

Our crew is growing this week with the arrival of the interns!

Two production updates of note: first, Bassam, Josiah and I got our first Blender renders through Helga! This is a big change, since it required adding support for multiple simultaneous versions of any renderer. So now, instead of Helga supporting one version of Maya, we now support multiple versions of multiple renderers. Here's a pic, which is a preview of one of the character's from Bassam's film, Tube:

Also, Evan and Chris showed a new animatic of their film's first act today. I begged them for an image from it and here's what I got, a shot of their protagonist racing through town on her bike:

I won't spoil any more than that, but suffice it to say we are all building momentum on our three projects and are quite excited to be welcoming the new team members this week.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

in the works

There's a new bitfilms Twitter account you can follow if you want the most breaking news about all things bit films related. No I have not posted to it yet. I'm just waiting for that right first moment.

The Motion Film Festival officially posted their awards, and some extra accolades came our way in the form of screenplay and audio design honorable mentions!

SIGGRAPH has posted their preview video for the 2009 CAF, and though we're still waiting for a schedule it's great to see some of our shots cut in with all sorts of other work:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

summer studio week 1 update

Thanks to all who applied for 2009 summer internships! The deadline has passed and the internship supervisors have already been meeting to discuss the applications.

I've got to say, it's great having daily Bit Films activity going on. We spent Monday cleaning up the studio space. Work began in earnest on Tuesday, with Evan working on concept paintings for Corset Sunrise and Bassam doing something that I can only assume was rigging. Josiah and Bassam had a lively open source/free software discussion behind me yesterday, too. I didn't grasp all of their insights but I could tell they were quite into it. When Blender Nation posted our internship call, we all watched the visitor traffic rocket up on Google analytics (and the application count, too).

I need to get my remaining spring term Hampshire work behind me so I can move onto my project! I will also try and tap the summer crew for imagery (and more) to include in these updates.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

SIGGRAPH nomination and Bit Films internships

Two things to report today:

First, news came in off the wire this morning reporting that "The Incident at Tower 37" is a student prize nominee at the SIGGRAPH 2009 Computer Animation Festival! Congrats to all involved. I trust the screening schedule will follow soon, so that we can all make plans to descend on New Orleans in force.

Here is the press release from the SIGGRAPH 2009 site. I had previously posted a link to it from Animation World Network's Headline News (but you have to wait through an ad to get to it there).

Second, our significantly-less-well-distributed and much-less-sexy announcement about Bit Films summer internships went out via email last night. Multiple (unpaid) internships are available for the summer on three different independent film projects. Details are posted at the top of the Bit Films website for now and will be removed once the internship application deadline has passed.

Apply soon! The deadline is Tuesday May 19th.

Monday, May 4, 2009

more award goodness

A packed and pleasing last 24 hours:

The USA Film Festival gave Tower 37 a Special Jury Mention, and the Motion Film Festival awarded us Best in Show and Best Animation!

As of this writing there are no online announcements of these awards, both came via direct contact with the festival organizers/juries.

Newport Beach wrap up (guest author!)

Please enjoy the following from Tower 37 producer Daniel Inkeles.

This past Friday night I received some very exciting news. The Incident at Tower 37 won Best Animated Short at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Nothing could beat getting to make that phone call and be the first one to tell Chris the news. It's a great honor from the festival and it was just the kick in the pants I needed to get me to actually finish my write up of my personal experiences at the festival.

Thursday April 23 was an uncharacteristically overcast and dismal day in Los Angeles, the whole city had a green/gray/yellow tint to it. However, that sickly film started to wash away the moment I passed out of Los Angeles County and into Orange County. An hour and a half after leaving LA I arrived in Newport Beach. Clear skies, clean air, opulent estates, countless yachts, and plazas full of some of the most upscale shopping and dining establishments I've ever seen outside of Manhattan and Beverly Hills; it truly felt like I had walked into an episode of The OC (which, after all, was set in Newport Beach). I would spend the next three days in this playground for socialites, taking in ten feature films, numerous shorts, attending nightly after parties and hobnobbing with other filmmakers, industry professionals and press.

When I arrived at the Edwards Big Newport Theater for the opening night film, Lymelife, the line to get in was already running around the block and the press were swarming around a red carpet that had been laid out in front of the theater for VIP guests. I quickly found the filmmaker check in where I received my filmmaker pass, and got in line for the film. The wonderful thing about wearing a filmmaker pass (beyond having the ability to walk in to any screening or party) is that it announces to the world "I'm not from around here, but if you talk to me I might be able to tell you something interesting." A delightful couple behind me in line immediately struck up a conversation with me about Tower 37...they even had me circle it in the festival program. This scenario would repeat itself countless times, whether it be standing in line to get into a film, sitting next to a stranger in a theater, meandering outside the theater (where a very articulate 11 year old girl asked me a number of pointed questions about the film) or while standing in one of the ungodly long lines to get drinks at one of after parties.

So, let's flash forward to Saturday afternoon and the first Tower 37 screening. I was a little nervous going into our screening. I was the first person in the theater (a very nice theater that could easily seat at least 200 people) and suddenly this wave of terror washed over me and I thought that I was going to be the only person to show up. For some reason, the festival programmers had seen fit to schedule a free seminar/panel on animation at the exact same time as their block of animated shorts were screening. Then a small group of young filmmakers came in, all wearing clothing bearing the name and logo of their production company. I introduced myself and learned that this was the team behind the film Escapism, which also screened with us at SENE. Slowly people began to trickle in, and that trickle soon became a flood and before I knew it the theater was nearly full. The audience was a great mix of young and old and as I scanned the seats it was a real joy to see that so many of the people who I had spoken to about the film hadn't just been humoring me when they said they were going to try to make it.

After a brief introduction by one of the festival staff they started up the projector and up came the grand festival logo, a great little animated piece in and of itself which I suggest you check out. Eleven films screened in total, ranging from high school student productions (Escapism) to shorts by animation veterans (Bill Plympton's Hot Dog). On the whole we were in great company.

Tower 37 played about 2/3 of the way through the series. The film looked gorgeous and sounded amazing. Up until this screening I had only ever seen the film played off a DVD or on a computer, so getting to see the DigiBeta was a real treat for me. Nothing beats getting to watch the film with a fresh audience. The film seemed to really score with the crowd; they laughed, they were silent in awe, and they were tense and worried as the film propelled itself to the climax. The applause following the film lasted well into the credits.

Of the films that screened my favorite, by far, was the short The Bridge. A co-production between Belgium and France, this beautiful stop motion film tells the story of a young boy and his father who live in total isolation from the rest of the world. Despite the father's best intentions, as the son grows up he is drawn to the outside world (in this case, the flashing lights of a distant city). I could only find one clip of the film online, but do check it out. The film floored me on both a visual and emotional level.

There were a number of other good shorts, including Because You're Gorgeous, a very funny animation from South Africa about a vain warthog whose attempts to get his hair just right eventually lead to him losing all of it. It had a really great old-timey cartoon short feel to it. I also really enjoyed a short from Ireland called Granny Grimm's Sleeping Beauty in which a grandmother recounts the story of Sleeping Beauty to her terrified granddaughter. Granny alters the story to be about how a scornful elderly fairy who was not invited to Beauty's christening takes revenge on the young and beautiful people who were invited. The scenes of Granny telling the story to her granddaughter were in 3D and everything was colored these wonderful dark blues and grays while the Sleeping Beauty story world was 2D and full of bright oranges and golds.

Following the screen I was invited up in front of the crowd for a Q&A and was joined by the directors of Escapism and Heart Attack. It took the crowd a little while to get warmed up, but I fielded some excellent questions about the inception of the film, the challenges of production and the programs we used to make it (which allowed me the opportunity to really plug Helga). After Q&A a number of people came up to me to tell me how much the enjoyed the film and to tell me how beautiful it was, it was a great experience and I only wish more of the crew that made it all possible were there to see how warmly their hard work was received.

Of the 400 films playing at the festival, Tower 37 was one of only a handful that played more than once. On Sunday morning we played during a series of Earth Day themed shorts at a local cultural center that was having an Earth Day event (music, artwork, informational booths, kids activities, food...the works). When the screening started there were only five or six people in the audience, but more people came in as the screening went on, and lucky for us, we were the last short to screen. By the time the Bit Films logo came up there must have been about 30 people there. Once again, we screened with The Bridge, this time we were back to back, which made for one of the most depressing 25 minutes of animation I have ever watched. There were a lot more parents with kids in this screening and I have to say, I was really impressed with how attentive the kids were to Tower 37, the visuals seemed to have them transfixed.

We screened with a very cute short film called Goldfish about a young girl who decides she is going to free all the goldfish in her elementary school class. The girl ends up flushing the fish down the toilet, thinking that they will be returned to their families in the ocean. She gets the idea because in Finding Nemo they say "all pipes lead to the ocean."

Following the shorts, a documentary called Blue Gold was screened, which is all about how water is becoming scarcer and the dangers of privatized water. It really was the perfect companion piece to Tower 37 and I am so glad they were screened back to back. After the screening I spoke with the director, he had missed Tower 37, but I made sure to get a screener in his hand which he was very excited to watch.

And that was my weekend in Newport Beach. Here are a few other selected highlights of the festival:

* While hanging around the Filmmaker Hospitality Lounge (eating free food) I struck up a conversation with the Festival Organizer of the Delray Beach Film Festival in Florida. I told him about Tower 37 and sight unseen he said he'd like to put it in their festival.

* The after parties was crazy. After walking the red carpet to enter the opening night ceremony I was greeted by complimentary food from Newport Beach's premiere restaurants, free drinks provided by festival sponsor Absolut Vodka, a fashion show put on by Bloomingdales, and a very racy performance by Cirque de Soleil. The after party on the second night was held in the showroom of the local LandRover dealership, Danny Masterson (Hyde from That 70s Show) was DJing while scantily clad girls danced on tables. The third party was probably the craziest, held both inside and poolside at a local fitness club, a DJ inside and a live band was the quintessential SoCal party. I briefly crossed paths with actress Bai Ling.

The funny thing about these parties is that, like geeky kids at middle school dances, all the filmmakers seem to end up together in a corner, just discussing their films and watching the craziness unfold in front of them.

* I attended a directing seminar in which honorary festival chair McG (Charlie's Angels 1 & 2, Terminator Salvation) talked about his experience directing films in Hollywood. He then showed the entire audience some footage from the new Terminator film, however when the footage started to play there was no sound. Quickly jumping into action, McG started narrating the entire piece...truly some of the best improvising I've seen in a long time.

* Saturday morning I took a yacht cruse around Newport Beach with most of the other short filmmakers. We all noshed on breakfast pastries and exchanged contact info and screening times. We were all asked to take out shoes off when we entered the yacht, and all the carpets will covered in was really funny, it reminded me of visiting my grandparents house when I was young.

* If you get an opportunity to see any of these films, do: Lymelife, Adventures of Power (directed by an old high school friend of Chris's, Ari Gold), Answer Man, and Poundcake. I saw a number of great films, but those were probably my favorite features.

Well, thanks for reading. Hopefully I'll get to see some of you at some of the next batch of exciting festivals we will be playing in.

~ Daniel