Sunday, September 28, 2014

Starting a Pen and Illustration (Part 4)...

 Baseball 1930...

  About three and a half months ago I started this pen and ink illustration.  In the past, I would have been working a full time job and spending only an hour here and there in my 'spare time' working on this artwork. Retirement has it's benefits when it comes to time allocation. I was able to spend more uninterrupted time at the drawing board.

 In an earlier blog,  I mentioned a photo that I had seen and that I'd used for inspiration for my latest piece.  I saw potential in the photo, an opportunity to take it a step further and make it more interesting than it appeared without detracting from the overall look.

(Photograph that that jump started my imagination.)

  I would take a similar approach with the scenes I animated. The objective was to take the scene I was issued and add something to it (plus the scene) to make it more entertaining. Whatever the form of artwork, whether quick sketching, animation, illustration, cartooning, painting or sculpting; to me, the end product is about telling the story and communicating that story in an entertaining way.                                               

Identifying with the moment...

 Let's have some fun for a few minutes and analyze this illustration:

  Most of us have been to a sporting event or some other gathering of a large group of people...Therefore, this can invoke identification with the event.  Also, there's often an emotional response that is both universal and timeless that ties into reminiscing about a past experience.  And finally, we are drawn in to a visual situation we can connect with even if it is a connection only by association.

  We are all individuals and will react differently to the same stimuli.

In my picture below, the action takes place at a baseball game.  Using only body language, I tried to tell each person's story in a unique way.   I hope it draws you in to ask questions and keep you interested in what you see.  Are you asking yourself, 'how would I react in this situation or if I was next to this guy or girl?'  This takes the illustration beyond being just a pretty picture to the realm of entertainment for the eye.  My goal is to execute a piece of artwork that is fun to look at.

(Finished pen and ink illustration)
Visual manipulation also contributes.

  The concessionaire in the white uniform (bottom right) immediately catches your eye. Everyone else is pointing toward the action.  Though he is looking at the action, he is pointing in the opposite direction to a line of light suites leading your eye up to the tree (middle right). Then, you follow it's leaves along the top of the illustration, leading the eye back to the left, pointing down toward the baseball action.

  The action on the baseball field is not the focus of attention. The players in action are drawn small in proportion to what is transpiring around them. Our eyes glance in that direction to see what is motivating the crowd, but we quickly see it is the crowd that our attention is drawn to.  The crowd is telling us where we should be looking, but it is the fans that catch our attention.

Up close and personal...

I have several other aims for this and my other illustrations. One of them is that they must read at a distance and up close.  Additionally, each individual section should be able to stand on it's own.  I have observed people scrutinize these illustrations from a distance, then come closer and closer to see the fine line work, sometimes at nose length:-).

  That is the purpose of the ragged edges around the perimeter of the illustration. To purposely bring the viewer back from the journey of action within the artwork (from a distance) into the reality that it was done by hand, inked line by inked line (up close).

Naming this Illustration...

 I choose simple and to the point names for my illustrations. I will call this "Baseball 1930".
If you think of another name it can go by, I will consider it.

 Let me know by facebook or this blog:-)

  Next step - Get a 600 dpi scan. Then deliver to John Greco's Josephine Press in Santa Monica, CA to have some prints made.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sketching the New Buffalo Soldiers...

September 14, 2014...

   This past Sunday afternoon after church I drove three blocks north to the Monrovia Recreation Park.  I would have walked, but it was too hot... over 100 degrees.

My destination was the Monrovia Historical Museum.

There were a few connections that drew me to this location.
When I was a kid growing up in the 'Gem City', this building was the entrance to the swimming pool.  It has now been converted to house memorabilia of the city's past and they are hosting a one day special exhibit  I wanted to see.


  I could not pass up the opportunity to sketch men on horseback dressed as Buffalo Soldiers of the late 1800's/early 1900's. The New Buffalo Soldiers, as they are called, are a staple on New Years Day as they proudly ride their steeds in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. They brought with them displays of rifles, tents, slave purchase documents and other artifacts of that era. They also offered verbal history to anybody who would listen to the stories of  these unique soldiers of the United States Cavalry and I was listening.

(New Buffalo Soldier John gave me a verbal history of the original and new Soldiers)

(Filing a horse's hoof)
These men owned and took care of their own horses...



(Blacksmith of the group)

  The Blacksmith of the group 'posed' for me, sitting on a stump as he waited for another of the group so he could show him how to shoe a horse.

    I was not completely ignorant of exploits of Buffalo Soldiers. As a lead animator on 'Atlantis:The Lost Empire,' I'd studied them as part of the backstory for my character,  Dr. Joshua Sweet who had been a Buffalo Soldier before the story picks up.

This research gave me some insight into this aspect of Dr. Sweet's life and helped me bring vitality and believability to the animation of this character.

    Another reason why I was interested in visiting the Museum was the occasion of this event, "Monrovia, California Honors Colonel Allen Allensworth. 100 years - A Visionary" read the headline of one newspaper.

  Born a slave, through a fascinating series of events, Allensworth rose to be chaplain of the 24th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers and retired as Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth, the highest ranking African American serviceman of his era.

  Allensworth also founded the town that goes by his name Allensworth in Tulare County, CA. It was the first town in California founded, financed and governed by Black Americans.  (There is more information online about Lt. Colonel Allensworth and the town of Allensworth- please do yourself a favor and look it up. and lt.col.allensworth)

  To commemorate this date, the mayor of Monrovia, city council members, representatives from the Friends of Allensworth, Second Baptist Church, the city historian, the New Buffalo Soldiers and residents of the city all gathered to hear local TV host Ralph Walker and others talk about this extraordinary man.
 Lastly, a special connection for me was that Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth was the first pastor of the Second Baptist Church here in Monrovia, my church, three blocks away.  And, on this date, 100 years ago, September 14th, 1914, the Reverend Allen Allensworth was struck by a motorcycle and killed as he walked from the train station to the church.

Neat opportunity to encounter history in  my own community and be able to capture in my sketchbook.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A New Building and Pocahontas (Part 2)



February of this year marked my twentieth year in animation, all with Walt Disney Feature Animation.

My formative training under Eric Larsen had been a life changing, eye opening experience for me in all aspects of my artistic career. From the first day in the animation community to now, his words and thoughts still ring loudly in my mind. These are some of the nuggets of wisdom from notes I took in his lectures and from his handouts.

He brought to our attention, "Our responsibility is to a team effort, but also to ourselves. If we do not hold ourselves accountable for doing our very best, our contribution to the team effort becomes nil. Our talents have to be nourished every day through observation, analysis, discussion, application and doing.

Eric passed on a quote from legendary animator/director/imagineer Ham Luske: "We must make our action stronger than it would be in real life - or we are not taking advantage of our medium."

Eric challenged us to consider: "Animation, action wise is a pantomime medium and pantomime may be our greatest challenge - every thought, attitude, expression, action, reaction, etc. has to be told in drawings expressing charm and appeal, and sans dialogue".

Eric taught us to think about, in his words: "In the challenge to entertain people we have to have something to say. In animation we say it, hopefully in a way the audience will fully understand and enjoy."

This is the thinking I brought into my 20th year.

The Disney Service Awards Banquet (recognizing years of service with the company) was held at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. My twenty paled in comparison to John Hench (50) and Carmen Sanderson's (45) years of service that were highlighted that night.

(Page from The Walt Disney Distinguished Service Awards Banquet booklet.)

LaVonne and I at the awards ceremony (didn't quite get the sketchbook behind my back.)
(LaVonne, Mickey and me)

Additionally, my pen and ink illustration work was getting noticed. I had a showing of my work in the city of Duarte, CA at the Historical Museum that May.

(This picture of was taken by fellow animator Ruben Aquino.)

Since 1991, I had been a featured speaker at the Black Film Makers Hall of Fame in Oakland, CA.
Marshall Toomey, who headed up the clean-up department on many features, was also on program on this occasion.

(Marshall and me lecturing in Oakland, CA.)
The beginning of the year brought recognition of my years of service to the WDC by the studio. In addition to the WDC studio service award recognition in February (my month of hire), the animation department acknowledged those of us who had put serious time behind an animation desk that following November:
The year for me began and ended in awards and the release of a feature Pocahontas sandwiched in between. The future looked bright at this point in time, but the train was gradually slowing down.

(Invitation to the Animation Department service awards)

    The year for me began and ended in awards with the release of Pocahontas sandwiched in between. The future looked bright at this point in time, but the train was gradually slowing down.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A New Building and Pocahontas (Part 1)...

Into the Hat...

  The ending month of 1994 brought the animation department home after a ten year absence. In that time span I had animated in a trailer and three converted warehouses located on three different blocks in the city of Glendale, CA.

  The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company, The Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas were completed at these locations and had out performed our live action movies at the box office.

  With some of the profits from these blockbusters, a building to house the growing animation staff was constructed to bring us home. Not back home as in 'back to the studio lot', but across the street, south of the lot, adjacent to the 134 Freeway. 

  The New Animation Building (also known as the Hat Building because of the iconic Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Apprentice Hat tower on the building) opened amid much fanfare... at least from the animation executives. I guess they were trying to make sure that we, the animation staff, were happy campers.

 On opening night we were treated to food, drink, a model of the building, a badge, wristwatch and a board directing us on a walk through the three upper floors and lower level of the building.

(Certificate on the bottom of the model of the building)
(The give-a-ways of that night, a wristwatch, model of the building and a badge.))

(Board/map navigating us through the building)

    I was one of the first to sign up for the fitness center located in the lower level of the building:-)
(I could officially work out 24/7)

 Animating on Pocahontas...

    I worked under Andreas Deja on several features before Pocahontas. What a talent he is and his passion and love for animation is infectious. He has had a positive influence on the way I view character animation.

   Eric, Frank, Ollie, Art Stephens, Gary Goldman, Don Bluth, Glen Keane, Mark Henn are other  animators that I could point to as also having influenced me in some way in their unique approaches to animation. Another positive influence for me was the outstanding animator, John Pomeroy.

 On Pocahontas he was the lead animator of the John Smith unit of which I was assigned. John was animating at the studio when I arrived in 1975. He left a few years later with the Don Bluth exit and now he was back to work his animation genius with us.

While working on this production, I had many in-depth, personal and artistic conversations with John. I gleaned a tremendous amount of his knowledge of animation which helped me tremendously in the next steps of my animation career.

  Prior to the end of the year move, the animation on Pocahontas was completed in our Glendale location. We character animators worked at times from live-action reference photostats as the some the scenes were shot using actors in the major character roles.  This technique was nothing new. This technique had been used by the studio on Snow White, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Anytime human type characters are animated, live-action reference help bring a sense of believability to the drawings and performance.

  Nik Ranieri's raccoon Meeko and Dave Pruiksma's Flit, the humming bird and some of the other characters that did not need the live-action reference.

  There were some scenes I animated that had no live-action reference and had to be worked out the old fashioned way; via thumbnails.

 Below are my thumbnails from the underwater scene with Pocahontas and John Smith and John and shadow during the 'Colors of the Wind ' song sequence.

(Key drawings and timing)
   The business is worked out in thumbnails prior to any animating with key drawings, notes and approximate timing.

(John Smith reacting as the eagle's shadow crosses over his upper torso.)

 We put the finishing touches on Pocahontas and proceeded to move into our new home...

  June brought in the cast and crew screening/wrap party shortly followed by the premier and national release.

Pocahontas premiered a few weeks later at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, CA.

(Brochure announcing the exclusive engagement of Pocahontas.)

(to be continued...)