Tech Inspiration in Seattle

I visited Seattle, Washington the first weekend of September, where my good friend moved. This is the third summer in a row where I made this trip, with the last two occurring after the SIGGRAPH conference. Despite not attending this year, my northwest adventure more than made up for my absence in LA.

Have you ever had a period of time where things felt oddly connected? Or maybe you had a few unrelated classes thematically spill into one another? That was my week in Seattle. This trip had a much welcomed, consistent theme running throughout the duration, starting with the plane ride there. In the wake of the first casting news announced for Steven Spielberg’s filmic adaptation, I decided to re-read Ready Player One. The book heavily features a virtual world, OASIS, where the characters spend most of their time, and where they truly live their lives. I’ve always had a strong fascination with more technology-driven cartoons, to the point where I probably would not be working in CG animation without them driving my interest into computers. The references to some of these properties, and others such as WarGames really got me excited about these types of stories, and knowing about some of the VR and AR tech being developed, such as the HoloLens, OASIS won’t seem like a pipe dream for much longer.

In the years that I’ve known him, my friend has been a source of inspiration and assurance throughout my foray into CG/interactive technology. Working at Mircosoft, he definitely knows a thing or two about technology. We’ve always had similar taste in/appreciation for science, science fiction, art, media, and technology, so I supposed my little adventures being related shouldn’t be too surprising. 🙂

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Tony Zhou and the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy

This past weekend, I revisited the video essays of Tony Zhou. It reminded me that there are still so many classic and contemporary live-action films that I need to still see. The first time I saw his essay on the visual comedy of Edger Wright last year, I had realized I’d yet to see any of Wright’s films outside of 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

And so, with the lessons of Mr. Zhou fresh in mind, I’ve been re-thinkng my viewing of the “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy, consisting of Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013).

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I enjoyed them in the order they were released, with Shaun being my definite favorite by a longshot, and, enjoying End, but not enough to seek it out again. I found that my reasoning for this solely had to do with the character Simon Pegg played in each, and how much I related to them. Or didn’t. Mostly didn’t.

In terms of visual comedy, dialogue, cinematography, and overall production, they were all on a level playing field. I found myself actually laughing out at funny quips, slapstick, and noise effects, that much more appreciative of them thanks to Tony Zhou. And that much more disillusioned by American cinema.

But the characters…In End, I despised Pegg’s Gary King with every fiber of my being. I understand that that’s how his character is supposed to be, and that even his friends can barely tolerate him. Hot Fuzz‘s Nicholas Angel’s frustration was palpable to me, but the sheer idiocy surrounding him turned sour to me, to the point where I was more annoyed than humored. Shaun was clearly the most relatable of the three characters in his struggle to be a better version of himself for those around him. It made me wonder that, had Wright’s films not been so visually appealing, if I’d have been able to sit through End. I honestly don’t think so, considering my indifference for the characters. The heightened storytelling also allowed for the absurd premises of the films to be more digestible too. I wonder what came first as Wright refined his arsenal…it would be interesting to see his earlier work, either as a student or making shorts or commercials. Was his style always so outlandish, even with more grounded scenarios, or did his desire to expand outside the norm necessitate his inventiveness? I’ll have to do some digging for a follow-up post!

On top of peaking my interest in discovering and learning from new films, Tony Zhou also makes me want to analyze films more, and better. Way better. He’s such a gem, who must spend hours researching and composing his  essays, let alone editing them, and this post was written in a collective 3 hours over 2 months (because I’m a weenie and didn’t finish and post it when I first thought to write about it). I know my writing can’t be as good as Tony Zhou’s video-ing. At least, not any time soon. Which means I need to start now. That is the constant struggle.

I’m glad that watching video essays could spur me into seeing films that, although I never would have sought out, would (and did) thoroughly enjoy experiencing. There are so many more films from Tony’s and other people’s essays (both written and visual essays) that I’ve never even heard of, so I intend for this to become a trend.

Definitely check out the work of Edgar Wright and Tony Zhou!

Bill Plympton @ Blue Sky Studios

NYC-based independent animator Bill Plympton visited Blue Sky Studios!

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Photo taken from Blue Sky Studios Facebook page

This actually wasn’t my first time seeing Bill Plympton talk. He’s visited my department at SVA a number of times, was on a panel I saw a while ago organized by The Academy and the Society of Illustrators, and I tend to bump into him at NYC events, and support his other animation endeavors. I have quite a few post cards with doodles of his iconic guard dog:

Got a guard dog doodle from Bill Plympton the other day! @plymptoons

A post shared by @jenhurler on

It’s always interesting to see Bill talk, because, unlike many artists who cater their talks based on whether the audience is predominantly students or professionals (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), he is always very blunt and sincerely speaks his mind. He doesn’t beat around the bush about his opinions on animation in the US, about being an animation student today, or about himself and his career.

He’s the first one to tell you that he doesn’t make a whole lot of cash from his films, and that any money he makes goes into the next film. He discussed his decision to launch (a successful) kickstarter for his latest film, Cheatin’, his early days as an illustrator-turned animator, and the freedom (despite limited resources) he enjoys today tackling more grown up subject matter. He was encouraging to many artists, reminding them that they can still create their own work about whatever they want despite being at a larger studio.

Always the advocate of broadening the scope of animation in America, Bill’s talks always touch on this, which is why I enjoy them so much. There’s no reason why more films like his can’t exist alongside your Disney musicals. I personally prefer a grey area in between these “kid” and “adult-themed” films, which is why films like The Wind Rises appeal to me on a thematic level. They tell more mature stories but can still be accessible to younger audiences. But Bill is doing what no one else in this country is doing, and doing so without compromise, and I love that. He shows that these darker topics can be digested without being the punchline like you so often find in “adult” animation like South Park. Again, not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is always room for more!

My friend from high school, Eric Francisco, interviewed Bill for the site Geekscape. It’s a really fantastic read, as Eric asked some great questions, many of which I ponder a lot while working at a studio that solely focuses on family-oriented stories. While at Blue Sky, Plympton did briefly share his thoughts on the matter, similar to this bit from the interview:

They get jealous, they have adulterous affairs and divorces, [even] hook up with prostitutes and things like that, but yet they can’t talk about it. They can’t discuss it in their films. They have to do kiddie films. Which seems like lying. They’re betraying their artistic sensibilities. Whereas I can draw about whatever I want and that’s what makes me an artist talking about my own life.

The independent film life is not for everyone, especially with a beast of a medium like animation. But it’s so great to see people like Bill Plympton continue to carve a niche for themselves. And from the looks of some early reviews of Cheatin’ (which just was released to limited theaters), it looks like that niche will be growing even more this year.

Here is a trailer for Cheatin’:

A Missed Opportunity

I’m kind of mad at myself. And why? Because this is happening tonight:

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The NYC ACM SIGGRAPH chapter is holding an event about the character design and development of Disney’s Big Hero 6. Here are the event details from the site:

Join Character Design SupervisorBill Schwab and Character CG Supervisor, Carlos Cabral as they share the art, process and innovation of  “Big Hero 6” an action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius—thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion—a robot named Baymax —and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, and featuring comic-book style action, Bill and Carlos will share what it’s like to bring characters to life at Disney Animation.

The NYIT auditorium is a pretty cozy venue, so I should have known that it would fill up fast, especially considering that tickets were being sold in advance (which tends to not happen when NYC SIG events are held at SVA or FIT, which are a little more spacious). The thing is, I’ve known about this event for a while, before it was even being advertised. And, as usual, I hesitated to purchase my ticket. And, as usual, the event filled up quickly. I’ve been to enough of these types of talks to know what I’m missing. Heck, if I’m lucky I’ll still manage to see some form of this talk at SIGGRAPH or online featurettes. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have loved every damn minute of this.

There are so many reasons I should be attending this event. Many of my friends and classmates from SVA will be there, fellow Blue Skyers and SIG friends will be there, the presentation itself will be dope, networking, a badass write up for this sad little blog, A VIDEO FOR MY NONEXISTENT YOUTUBE CHANNEL!? And I threw it all away. Why?

Because the thought of commuting into NYC is very daunting to me. That’s literally it. I am a homebody through and through, but right now that side of me feels very passively self-destructive.

Perhaps shaming myself via the Internet will teach me to get over myself. Hell, maybe this in itself could become a video for my NONEXISTENT YouTube channel. Because this is not the first time my aversion to social situations has costed me a great opportunity and experience. Hopefully it is one of the last..

SIGGRAPH 2014

Howdy y’all.

As I write this, I am procrastinating. It is the night before my flight across North America and into the Canada. For those of you who don’t know, SIGGRAPH is an organization for nerds who love computer graphics. It’s sort of a big deal. The Siggraph conference is where all of the industry giants–both the companies and the people–gather to share and exchange research and ideas about our wonderfully twisted industry. This is where vfx artists, animation technical directors, computer science PhDs, programmers, game designers, developers, tinkerers, enthusiasts, and students learn, share, meet, mingle and make some memories.

Last year I was a student volunteer, where I actually worked for and at the conference in exchange for free access to it during my off time. This year, I’m returning as a team leader who helps manage the volunteers as well as the venues. I’m assigned to the art gallery, so come say hi if you see this!

There’s so much to do still… I’ve got to pack and organize my conference-related stuff such as business cards and schedule of things I’d like to attend and deal with all the last minute things like my phone plan being in another country…? Shouldn’t that be easy by now?

I also FINALLY updated my personal website for this conference too! Check it out here!

Siggraph always give me the swift kick in the ass I need to get myself motivated and reinvigorated. Now, it’s not that I get demotivated..but it gives me a slight confidence boost that I get to be around all of these hard-working, intelligent people who are so willing to create and contribute to an actual community. I always feel their good karma passes on to me, and I hope I can keep passing it along.