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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Personal Heroine of Animation

I didn't get a lot of encouragement in my artistic endeavors when growing up.(1) My teachers in grade school saw my doodling and drawing as a waste of time and would call my parents into meetings in order to discourage my drawing instead of finding constructive channels for me to improve as an artist.

Grandma Wilson, however, was always in my corner.

Constance Wilson
Case in point: I moved back to Michigan during the eight month period between undergraduate graduation and the start of grad school. When a local job offer fell through, Grandma let me live with her in exchange for performing home repairs and all the landscaping chores on the farm that had piled up while she was sick for the better part of the previous year. My mornings until around noon or so would be spent working for Grandma and the afternoons would be spent looking for work that would fill the ever-shrinking period of time before I would move to Rochester and continue my education. After dinner, I would sit there at the counter and listen to Grandma dispense hard won wisdom or stories about our family history while pouring over the want-ads in the newspaper.(2)

Knowing that I was going to graduate school to become an animator, one evening, Grandma told me the story of how she owned the City Theatre on 600 E. Midland Street in Bay City, Michigan from 1942 to 1947--back when my father was just a baby. It was during this time that she screened Walt Disney's "Fantasia" at her theater--although whether it was the 80 minute edited re-release in 1942 or the semi-restored 115 minute re-release in 1946, I could not say. At the time, I did not know enough to ask for those kinds of details.

The following short documentary is about the history of theaters in Bay City. Grandma's theater is at time marker: 4:05.

Video created by John Trudell with photos and information
from Marv Kusmierz, and used with permission.

Seven years later, I had graduated and was living and working back in Michigan. When Fantasia 2000 was released, I made the three hour, round-trip drive down to the Henry Ford Museum several times to watch this tour de force of animation. Though I didn't know it at the time, the film's driving force was Walt Disney's nephew, Roy E. Disney, who had resurrected his uncle's dream for the original Fantasia and added his own mark by making it a sequel to the venerable film (as opposed to a continual release with revolving animated segments).

When on a visit to Grandma that year, she reiterated her story of how she showed the first Fantasia in her little Bay City theatre. So, when Fantasia 2000 was released on DVD that November, I bought the three-disk special edition and drove to Grandma's with my DVD player in tow. Well, her television was too old to hook up to my player so I jerry-rigged a connection through her VCR, but, due to it's age, we could hear the music, but not see the images clearly.

To make matters worse, by this time, Grandma's eyesight had been damaged because of macular degeneration and she had started the slow progression towards becoming a shut-in due to her fears of stumbling and falling on unfamiliar terrain that she could not see. Once a prolific writer, Grandma had to give up this pleasure because of the 'spots' that clouded her vision. As she would later describe it to me, while her peripheral vision was fine, if Grandma looked right at you, she could see the outline of your head and the rest of your body, but she couldn't see your face--there was only a fuzzy, grayish-black circle.

Grandma lived about a twenty minute drive from the Henry Ford Museum, where Fantasia 2000 was once again playing on the IMAX theatre for a limited time--I assume to hype the DVD sales. I asked Grandma if she would be interested in going to the IMAX. Her answer was an enthusiastic 'yes, she would love to get out the house for an evening'. So, she bundled up and I took her and my Aunt Dorothy to see the movie. Since Grandma walked with a cane at that time, the theatre graciously allowed us to be seated as soon as the previous crowd dispersed so we wouldn't have to stand in line. They even took us up to the top of the theatre in the elevator, so Grandma wouldn't have to navigate the stairs, and seated us in the top row, center seats.

After the film was over, I asked her how she liked it. Grandma was beaming as she told me that the IMAX screen was so big that it compensated for her macular degeneration. Apparently, because of the size of the characters and the images, she only had to move her eyes around slightly to be able to take in the entire scene.

When Roy Disney died in the winter of 2009, my brother and I sat in a bar in East Lansing and had a toast to this titan of the industry while 'Destino' streamed over my iPhone ('Destino' was an unfinished project between Disney Studios and Salvador Dalí that Roy discovered when working on Fantasia 2000--a project that he had Disney Studios France finish by 2003).

Roy Disney was a man who I wanted to meet. I wanted to tell him the story of my grandmother and I going to the IMAX theater to see the film that he started thinking about making back in 1974. I wanted to tell him of how she showed his uncle Walt's 'Fantasia' back in the forties and lived long enough to see its sequel. I should have written him a letter instead of waiting for an opportunity to thank him at a festival--an opportunity that may or may not have ever come.

Grandma Wilson died on February 27, 2013, seven days after her birthday. She was 95 years old and had outlived her parents, her brother, and her sister. Several days before she died, I stood by her bedside, kissed her on the forehead and said "thank you" for always supporting me in whatever I did.

The point of this little remembrance is that sometimes the heroes that influence our careers aren't animators or even involved in the animation industry. Sometimes they're just someone who takes the time to believe in you. Don't miss an opportunity to tell them "Thank you."

1. To my parents' credit, I learned how to read when I was two years old and they encouraged me to become a voracious reader throughout my life.
2. As Grandma slid into dementia during her final years of life, she reached a point where she could not remember what had happened the previous day, but remembered what happened fifty years earlier with crystal clarity. I took advantage of this a year before she died by visiting her and recording our family history on a Digital Audio Recorder. Initially, she didn't think that she would have much to say on the subject. Then she went on to talk for over three hours straight!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Animated News: Christy Hui and 'Xiaolin Chronicles'

Christy Hui
Here's a little something recently posted on writer and producer Christy Hui.

On November 18th, Animation Magazine published an article (and short interview) with Christy, the creator and executive producer of the upcoming series 'Xiaolin Chronicles' shown on the Disney XD cable channel.

In the article, Christy discusses this sequel to her show 'Xiaolin Showdown' as well as the future media distribution plans for 'Chronicles'.

For obvious reasons, my favorite quote from the interview is the following:

“New app technologies and gaming opportunities can support a franchise like Xiaolin all over the world. This is a great time for indie producers as we can really take advantage of the possibilities of digital media."

My translation: get out there girls and start working on your own show ideas. You never know where your hard work and creativity can take you!

The entire article can be read online at the Animation Magazine website via this link.

For more information on Christy, visit her bio page on "Xiaolinpedia, the free Xiaolin encyclopedia!"

* image used from Christy Hui's entry in "Xiaolinpedia, the free Xiaolin encyclopedia!"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Animated News: Animated Feature Film Director roundtable discussion with Jennifer Lee... and some dudes.

Jennifer Lee
Just in case you missed it, on Tuesday, December 10th, the Los Angeles Times posted a video of a roundtable discussion with five feature-length animation directors: Jennifer Lee (Frozen), Dan Scanlon (Monsters University), Chris Renaud (Despicable Me 2), Chris Sanders (The Croods), and Chris Wedge (Epic).

On the down side: there was only 'one' woman director in attendance. On the good side: there was a woman director in attendance!

Presented in an hour-long video and an abbreviated transcript, the entire video can be viewed on the LA Times website at the following link, and the abbreviated transcript at this link.

Additionally, if you haven't had the chance yet, I strongly encourage readers to look at the following interview that Ms. Lee gave to Susan Wloszczyna on the Women and Hollywood blog back on November 26th, 2013 and this interview given to the Examiner on November 30th, 2013. In them, she discusses what it's like to be Disney's first woman director, mentoring, the experience of directing Disney's 'Frozen', and making both heroes and villians into more multidimensional characters, among other topics.

Jennifer's bio and filmography can be viewed on the Internet Movie Database.

* Image used from Jennifer Lee's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Animated News: Patrick Jenkins' interview of Canadian Animator Leslie Supnet

Back on November 2nd, Patrick Jenkins posted an interview he conducted with Canadian independent animator Leslie Supnet. The interview covers her filmmaking career and inspirations as well as discussions on selected films. The interview can be read in its entirety on FilmAnnex.com. Readers interested in Leslie's work can learn more at her website (lesliesupnet.com) and she has also uploaded twenty of her films on her Vimeo page for public viewing at vimeo.com/lesliesupnet.

* image copyright Leslie Supnet and used with permission.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Animated Shorts: "Solstice" by Lynn Wang and Ed Skudder

Here's a really cool short by animators Lynn Wang and Ed Skudder (of "Dick Figures" fame) called "Solstice". This short film clocks in at just under two minutes and has this great Indiana Jones quality to the storytelling with visuals that look like they jumped right out of France's premiere animation school Gobelins, l'école de l'image.

You can learn more about Lynn's work on her Tumblr page, her filmography on IMDB, and her sketchblog on Blogger. Additionally, Cartoon Brew posted this film back on November 21st with a short descriptive quote from the animators about their film.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Animated News: Audio Interviews with Lotte Reiniger and Rebecca Sugar

Lotte Reiniger
Here's something to file under the heading 'really cool news'.

On November 30th, 2013, C. Edwards posted an article on Cartoon Brew under the title "Listen to Lotte Reiniger and Rebecca Sugar Discuss Animation".

Basically, he wrote a short article that links to a pair of separate interviews recorded by two notable woman animators almost thirty-four years apart.

The first is an interview by Lotte Reiniger recorded back in 1979 and made available on the USC School of Cinematic Arts website.

The second was a recent interview with Rebecca Sugar on NPR's radio program 'On Point' where she discusses her show Steven Universe and her career. Something really cool was listening to the advice Rebecca dispenses for women who want to become animators--be it an 8 year-old or a High School senior.

If you have the chance, definitely read the summary info that Edwards has posted in his article, it makes a great entry point to the audio interviews.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Animated News: Big changes for 'Women in Animation'

At the end of October, Women in Animation (WiA) elected two new co-presidents: Margaret Dean and Kristy Scanlan. Additionally, WiA has seen the creation of a new executive committee, board of directors, and advisory committee. The following Animation Magazine news article summarizes the changes along with more info about the new co-Presidents, committee members, and board of directors. Cartoon Brew has also posted an article about this change to WiA that's worth a look.

Additionally, WiA has relaunched their website (womeninanimation.org). I can verify that the new website makes it much easier to join WiA and renew your membership. However, it also lists upcoming events, links to chapters of WiA outside of the main Los Angeles branch, as well as press releases and articles on WiA.

For those interested in learning more about the history of Women in Animation, a non-profit organization started by Rita Street, Executive Producer and President of Radar Cartoons, I encourge you to read the following article: "Women In Animation: Changing the World: Person by Person, Cel by Cel" written by Rita Street for Animation World Magazine Vol 1, Issue 2 published back in May 1996. The article starts on page 23 in the PDF magazine.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Animated News: Joanna Quinn animates ident for the 2013 Bradford Animation Festival

Back in November, Thomas Coleman posted on Skwigly Animation Magazine, and Neil Emmett posted on Cartoon Brew, that Joanna Quinn has returned with Beryl, one of the recurring characters from her 1986 short film 'Girls Night Out'. This time, Beryl is baking an animation cake for the 2013 Bradford Animation Festival's ident film. If you look closely at the ingredients, you can see some familiar characters--most of whom are listed in Mr. Emmett's and Mr. Coleman's posts.

For more information on Joanna Quinn's work and career, visit her webpage 'Beryl Productions International Ltd' which she shares with business partner Les Mills.