Wall•E Vignettes: Show vs Tell

Pixar’s new movie Wall•E opened this past weekend to big box office and rave reviews. I am really looking forward to seeing it. I had hoped to catch it on opening weekend but plans fell through. We had relatives come to visit and then my daughter broke her ankle (she’s doing fine, thanks).

However, I did download some little animated vignettes based on Wall•E from iTunes. You can also view them on the official site (just click on the “videos” link and then scroll through the thumbnails at left). They are absolutely brilliant! Cute, charming, and full of life. Like much of the film, they contain no dialogue. But the animation is so lively and entertaining you don’t even notice.

Go to the official site and view these clips (or download them from iTunes, they’re free!) Each clip is a perfect example of true character animation. Wall•E doesn’t just move, he lives, breathes, thinks, and feels. You get a real sense of his personality and who he is from just a few seconds of film, without a single word being spoken.

If you ever wanted proof that less is more, this is it. Good writers, actors, and directors know that actions and expressions are always more effective than mere words. You can often communicate more with an movement, gesture, or glance than you could with an entire paragraph of dialogue. It’s more powerful to show than to tell, a point these little vignettes make beautifully.

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Jelly Telly

Yikes! It’s been almost a week since my last post. My apologies. Things have been pretty crazy here. Earlier this week I even had to pull an all-nighter to meet a big deadline. (I must be getting older. Those all-nighters are getting a lot more grueling than they used to be.)

Fans of VeggieTales might appreciate this: Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, is starting a new venture called Jelly Telly. The ground work is still being laid, but the plan is to create a launching pad for quality Christian entertainment for kids. You can read all about it on Vischer’s blog. Click on the “What is Jelly Telly?” button and you can read a fascinating 5-part post about the current state of children’s entertainment and specifically Christian media. It’s long but well worth the read.

To get things rolling, Jelly Telly is looking for Flash animators and motion graphic artists to create bumpers using the Jelly Telly logo. They can’t pay for the work, so you’d be signing away all rights for nothing but a little exposure. Still, if you are excited about the possibilities Jelly Telly could provide you might want to take part.

Or, if you just want to share artwork and ideas or follow the goings-on, join the Jellyfish Labs online community site. Here’s my page. However, before contributing be sure to read the Terms of Use. They basically state that any artwork and ideas you submit become the property of Jelly Telly. I wish that wasn’t the case but I suppose that’s the only way they can effectively prevent themselves from getting sued down the line.

Normally I strongly urge artists to avoid contests, promotions, and other gimmicks that require them to give away their work and ideas for nothing. However, I really believe in what Jelly Telly is trying to do. Besides, this is not the normal “give me artwork for free and maybe you’ll get some (worthless) exposure” scenario. Usually when someone wants free artwork it’s because they are looking to take advantage of young up-and-comers who are desperate for a chance to get a little experience. Vischer is different. He acknowledges that there’s a lot of poor-to-mediocre Christian media out there and he’s looking to raise the bar. The sense I get is that he is primarily interested in contributors who have a lot of talent/experience and who can afford to give a little free work because they are already established. So as distasteful as it is to me in this case I’d say if you want to give it a try, go for it.  I enjoy dabbling in Flash and might even try to develop a bumper myself, under two conditions:

1. I come up with a simple but clever idea.

2. I find a little free time.

Right now it would take a minor miracle for the second one to happen, but here’s hoping. In any case, I’ll be watching the progress at Jelly Telly closely and hoping it takes off.

New Animation Book From Eric Goldberg

Many animation fans will recognize the name Eric Goldberg. He’s an accomplished animator and director with a long list of credits in advertising, television, and feature films. He is best known for animating the Genie in Disney’s Alladin and for directing Pocahontas, and is one of the “top-drawer” animators currently working in the biz.

Goldberg has just written a book on animation, Character Animation Crash Course!, that will be released at Comic-Con next month. To give you an idea of Goldberg’s revered status in the animation industry, the foreward is written by none other that Brad Bird (Oscar-winning director of The Incredibles).

While there have been many animation books published in recent years, few go beyond the dry basics of walk cycles, lip sync, etc. Judging by the title, I’m hoping this will give us more than just the nuts and bolts and take us into the realm of true character animation. It’s one thing to make a character move. It’s entirely another thing to make that character appear to think, feel, and act.

Here’s the details, courtesy of the Creative Talent Network:

Well, the animation book Eric has been writing for 25 years, based on his animation notes, has finally arrived! Character Animation Crash Course!, published by Silman-James Press, is available for pre-order at the CTN Artist’s Storefront. It’s 240 pages of cartoon goodness, all geared to getting great performances from your characters on the screen. It comes with an accompanying CD that has animation movie files of selected sequences in the book. You can watch them in real time, or frame-by-frame, and they all include X-sheets, inbetween charts, circled keys, and underlined breakdowns, so the tests can be analyzed while you read the book, revealing how the principles actually look in movement and why. Also, Eric will be premiering this book at the San Diego Comic-Con, signing copies at Stuart Ng Books #5012, Friday July 25th from 2 – 4, and Saturday July 26th from 11 -12.

This looks like it will be a must-have resource for any serious animator. As mentioned above, you can pre-order the book from the CTN storefront. If you prefer, you can also order a copy from Amazon.com.

Hasbro Freelance Fair

Earlier this week I flew to Rhode Island to take part in the semi-annual Hasbro Freelance Fair. Twice a year the toy company invites freelance artists, designers, and sculptors into their corporate headquarters to show their wares and to hob nob with members of Hasbro’s rather large creative department (in the hopes of landing Hasbro as a client). Each exhibitor is given a six-foot table and, if needed, an easel and a power supply for plugging in laptops, etc. The event is by invitation only, but if you want to be considered you can apply online to be a Hasbro freelancer.

I had a wonderful time. I met a lot of bright, fun people at Hasbro and also did a little networking with some of the other exhibitors. There were about thirty freelancers/studios represented, many with impressive portfolios. I’m told this was the largest attendance of any Freelance Fair yet.

Here’s a quick snapshot of my humble table. My newly designed finger-puppet business cards were a big hit, with several people asking for more. Although I did run into some problems getting them printed in time. Hint: I won’t be using a company called Overnight Prints ever again. My cards arrived later than promised with one batch being printed off-center. I also had them print up some postcards and one batch had little red flecks in an area that was supposed to be solid orange. They were cheap, but I guess you get what you pay for. Still, it all worked out ok in the end and I had a lot of fun handing them out.

Here’s a view down the hall at some of the other exhibitors. Hasbro also has several large displays of various licensed properties lining their halls. Way off in the background you can barely make out some jumbo 3D displays from Indiana Jones and The Incredible Hulk.

The trip appears to have been a successful one for me. During the lunch break I checked my iPhone and found that I’d already received emails from two people at Hasbro about a possible project. The event wasn’t even over and doors were already starting to open. Nice!

Mr. Potato Head stands guard near the Hasbro entrance. After the event he kindly patted me on my head and sent me on my way.

Hasbro is headquartered in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, just a stone’s throw from the Massachusetts border and only a one hour drive from Boston. I had hoped to grab a quick dinner with an old friend before flying out of Bean Town but plans fell through. Since I found myself with an hour to kill I swung by one of Boston’s great landmarks from American history: The Cheers bar.

Someday my wife and I would love to take a relaxing, educational tour of some of Boston’s real treasures from American history, but since time was so rushed this seemed like a fun stop for me to make.

As you might guess, the interior of the bar looks nothing like the one on the show. The exterior inspired the design of the Cheers set, but a television show set has to be designed to face an audience and allow for clear theatrical staging and specific camera shots. No real bar could accomodate those needs. The real-life bar is much smaller and has a completely different layout.

Actually, the pub’s real name isn’t even Cheers, it’s The Bull and Finch (website). But since it served as the visual inspiration for the show and doubled as the exterior, the owners make the most of their association with the series. The Cheers logo appears on a small sign out front and is also etched in the glass on the front door. The walls are lined with Cheers photos and memorabilia, and there’s a gift shop upstairs where you can have your picture taken next to a life-size cardboard cutout of Norm. I bought a glass tumbler with the Cheers logo etched on the side to take home as a momento.

The exterior shots for Cheers were filmed at the Bull and Finch, as well as a few scenes from the series that took place outdoors. But the main action took place on a soundstage in Los Angeles. If you ever visit L.A. you can see the actual Cheers set recreated inside a museum on Hollywood Blvd. I went there on a vacation several years ago. You can walk right up to the bar and see where some of the series regulars carved their names into the wood after the final episode. You can even sit on Norm’s stool.

One of the great things about freelancing is that I have the freedom to take a really fun 36-hour business trip/vacation like this one. The flip side is that there’s no such thing as a true vacation day. I’m back in the studio and the work has really piled up. Posts may be light and infrequent in the next week or two until I get caught up.

Pixar Announces Upcoming Films

In a recent New York Times article Pixar announced its upcoming slate of animated films. (You have to register to read the article). The list includes:

Wal-E (official site) — A film from writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) that tells the story of a robot stranded on earth all-alone in distant future. Large chunks of the film will have no dialogue, just pantomime and sound effects. If anyone can pull that off and still engage the audience, it’s the masterful animators at Pixar. After all, as the author points out, the Road Runner and Cyote never talked either. Wall-E hits theaters on June 27.

Up — Described as “a comedy about a cranky, cane-wielding 78-year-old who transports his home to exotic locales by attaching hundreds of helium-filled balloons”

The Bear and the Bow — Pixar’s first fairy tale,

Cars 2 — Pixar’s second attempt at a sequel. Their first, Toy Story 2, was actually better than the original. Let’s hope the same for Cars 2.

Pixar has one of the best (if not THE best) track records in Hollywood: Every single one of their films has been a box office smash. They have yet to produce a flop. I can’t think of any other studio in Hollywood can make that claim. Including Disney. So I’m very excited to get hints at what they’ve got coming down the pipe.

Why An iPhone Is Worth The Money

On Monday Steve Jobs announced the new line of iPhones, the iPhone 3G, which will go on sale July 11 (exactly one month from today). My wife and I have had our iPhones for almost a year now and we love them. I originally considered it a “luxury” purchase, something fun and fluffy we didn’t really need. Boy was I wrong. They are super practical. We use them all the time, so much so that it’s hard for me to imagine getting through the day without one.

Here are just a few of the ways the iPhone has come in very handy for me: Continue reading

New Business Cards

Recently I came across a terrific article about business cards from the ProFreelancing blog. According to the author most business cards are largely a waste of money. People will quickly lose interest in you and your work if all they have to remember you by is your contact info. It’s even worse at a networking event where everyone is collecting business cards by the fist full. If your card doesn’t pull “extra duty”, it won’t stand out and will likely wind up in the trash.

Fortunately the article gave me some great tips for making my business cards more effective. In a couple of weeks I’ll be traveling to a “freelance fair” for a major toy/game manufacturer, and decided it was high time I made up some new cards using the author’s advice. (i.e. use both sides of the card, give a clear description of what I do, list some of my past clients, through in a couple of quotes from satisfied clients, etc.)

But I wanted to go one step further and do something creative and unexpected. Recently I met a creative director who’s business card is actually a tiny sketchbook with her contact info on the front cover. I really liked that idea, and wanted to come up with my own fun little gimmick to help make me and my business cards more memorable.

Since I specialize in character design, I thought it would be fun if each card was its own character. I also want to get more work in toys, games, and other children’s markets, so I wanted to the cards to appeal to our “inner child”. I doodled up some quick little characters from the waist up, then decided to punch finger holes in each card for legs.

At the very least it should make a nice conversation piece, and will hopefully make a more lasting impression at a networking event.

The front of the card is the character displaying a short message and my website. The back of each card (not shown) contains a quote from a satisfied client, my contact info, and a list of some of my more prominent past clients.

I know some consider it amateurish for an illustrator to put actual artwork on his/her business card. Many successful artists I’ve met in the past keep their business cards surprisingly simple and plain. However, in this case I’m hoping that (a) the novelty of the idea and (b) the “big name” clients I’ve got listed on the back of the card will make it clear that I am a professional despite the fact that I’ve put artwork on the cards.