welcome back

wow. look at that. its been a year since my last post. i don't feel the need to justify myself, but maybe i owe you an explanation anyway. i just got super busy... one of my last posts ends with "things are about to get different", and things got different. -i went back to work full time! needless to say, the time i had to spend sitting in front of my computer trying to impress 15 followers just really dwindled. BUT i didn't just get busy, i got lazy as well. at some point i gave myself an ultimatum that i wouldn't make any new posts until i updated my template. since i had built this blog way back in the pre-google owned blogger era, a bunch of boring stuff that i don't understand had become outdated. this was SUPPOSED to be an incentive for me to get it done, because i had all this stuff i wanted to post on the blog. it only took me a year, but i finally updated my template, so i can start posting again. i probably still have some kinks to work out, but this seems to be looking pretty similar to the old one. good enough for me for now.

now on to more interesting things...

since it is now early may, i guess that means i've been back at LAIKA for just over a year, designing and building armatures for the next feature. "the next feature" ...that's really all i have been able to say up until this week, when the studio finally announced that ParaNorman would be its next film. i have to admit that it has been really hard to not talk about it, partly because people were always asking me what i was working on lately, but mostly because i'm SO EXCITED about the film. its really going to be awesome.

so that's the big news for today. i will be back soon with some more interesting stuff to talk about. hopefully some images from the freelance days, and also some things that may surprise you.


R.I.P. Frank Frazetta

it is impossible to overstate this man's influence on artists of every stripe. he was the best. R.I.P.


and then...

i could start off by saying how busy i have been, but that would be redundant and boring. i can't believe my last post was in january. sheesh.

i promised that i would go into detail about my trip to NYC, so i'll share a bit about that. believe it or not, it was my first trip to the big city, so everything about it was fresh and exciting in its own right. i won't bore you with too much of the mundane (mundane in NYC?) stuff, but there are some topic appropriate things that i should mention.
many of you have probably heard about the tim burton exhibit at MoMA that is currently running. this special exhibit was sold out for almost the entire week i was there, but i managed to wrangle a ticket on a very crowded new years day just as the museum opened. although i would consider myself a huge fan of some of his earlier films (peewee's big adventure, edward scissorhands, beetlejuice) i have not followed tim burton very closely for the second half of his career. clearly the main draw for me has been his ongoing support for the art of stop motion animation. the MoMA show included a large sampling of maquettes and puppets and other dimensional artifacts from all stages of his career. going back to the early days, there were some really incredible conceptual models created by rick heinrichs for a few projects that never made it past the development stage. they showed the replacement cycle of eyeballs that the chiodo brothers used for the transformation of large marge in peewee's big adventure, as well as the puppets they made for the vincent short. i'm pretty sure i also remember seeing a puppet or maquette of the beetlejuice sandworm thingy. i need to watch that movie again, actually. anyway, moving on to the juicy stuff, they had a couple of dozen puppets from the nightmare before christmas, including a large assortment of jack heads, and several other of your favorite characters. actually, oogie boogie is one of the first things you see when you come into the first exhibition room, which i thought was pretty cool. it was great to see so many of these puppets in person. they also included a nice selection of concept art and storyboards, meant to help show the many steps of creating an animated film of that complexity. it was a nice little display. since burton was a producer on the film, they also included a handful of puppets from james and the giant peach. from what i recall it was mostly skeletons from the pirate jack sequence. it was interesting to see how well they masked the ball and socket joints into the skeleton designs. food for thought for sure. (you may have gathered by now that they did not allow photography in the exhibit, or else i would be sharing tons of pics with you.) the next large display featured a large assortment of puppets from corpse bride. these puppets are all little masterpieces! it really is hard to describe just how beautiful those puppets are in person. i'm not even going to try. truly magnificent work by mackinnon and saunders. while on the topic of mackinnon and saunders, i should mention the cool little promo spot they created for the show. a couple of coraline alum did much of the work on this spot, and it turned out really cool. take a look at the spot, and the making of, here. for me, the coolest part of the whole affair was a small display featuring puppets and animation clips from the early stop motion development of mars attacks. people who know me know that i have a borderline obsession with the mars attacks illustrations, and "what could have been" aspect of the aborted stop motion martians. one of the high points of last year's visit to mackinnon and saunders' studio was getting a chance to see some of these puppets again. i had seen one back in 2001 at a convention in vegas, but this was different. this time i got to TOUCH them. POSE them! talk to the people who made them! very cool. so it was doubly gratifying to see a bare armature martian on display at MoMA that i had personally handled only a year earlier. to top it all off, there was a screen nearby looping a segment of animation (done by phil dale) where a martian walks into a room and disintegrates a lounging barry purves, who was set to be the film's animation director. i have heard that a great deal of animation had been shot before the dreaded switch to CG was made, but i have not seen much of it. here's hoping a future blu-ray disc of mars attacks could include some of this lost footage.
so that is about it for the tim burton show. obviously there were a zillion tim burton drawings as well.

the other noteworthy sighting was a series of window displays at the bergdorf goodman men's store featuring a large selection of puppets and sets from the fantastic mr fox. again, these are absolutely beautiful puppets, most of which were created (again!) by mackinnon and saunders. it was great to see examples of all the different scales they used for different shots. here is another interesting article which discusses the work that went into making these puppets. i took some pics of the window sets, but they are terrible, so you should take a look at these shots taken by people who know how to take nice pictures instead. possibly the coolest thing about this stop was getting a chance to see the reaction of little kids as they walked by and noticed what was in the window. we were in the area for about 10 or 15 minutes, and kids were constantly making their parents stop in the middle of the sidewalk so they could take a look at the displays. it was pretty sweet.

as for the here and now, i'm just chugging along working on a few small projects. i swear as soon as i have permission to show some recent work i will do so. hang in there. things are about to get different.


2009 is dead

but what a year, huh!? i'm not really big on new year's resolutions and things of that nature, but it is always good to take a moment and reflect on where you are, what you are doing, how you got there, and where you want to be. seems like the start of a new year (or decade) is as good a time as any. so in taking an existential inventory of things, i have to say it has been a weird one for sure. although i was mostly unemployed last year, i had many amazing opportunities to meet and work for some great new friends from all around the country, nay, WORLD. in doing so i have learned many important lessons about myself, my craft, and my "industry". i have also had the good fortune to put together a small studio with some good friends and collaborators. this has given us a much needed boost to our collective productivity as we scramble to complete our various personal projects before the "next big job" comes along. and yes, i have been doing a great deal of scrambling lately.

so, due to the combined facts that it has been AGES since i made a real post here, and a new year is upon us, i am going to format this post as sort of a wrap-up. i hope you enjoy it.

something i completely forgot to mention in my post back in october was the film mary and max. the portland chapter of ASIFA had just hosted a screening and Q&A with director adam elliot. the film was outstanding, and adam elliot was both congenial and forthcoming at the Q&A following the screening. i love the distinct visual sensibility of elliot's body of work, and it was nice to see his world expanded a bit for a feature film. the subject matter could be considered somewhat dark, but i thought the movie was remarkably humorous and quite poignant, if a bit melodramatic at times. i usually could not care less about voice casting of celebrities, but i thought phillip seymour hoffman's performance as the voice of max was amazing. i believe you can currently see this on IFC on demand, and i highly recommend that you do!

since i've already started talking about movies, i'll move on to wes anderson's the fantastic mr fox. at the end of 2008 i took a trip to england and took the chance to visit some of the studios over there. the first stop was 3 mills where they were a little over halfway finished shooting "fox". although i had just been awake for the majority of a 30+ hour journey, my memory of the studio tour is quite vivid. i was immediately struck by the complexity of some of the bigger setups for long panning shots. while i was not shown any footage at the time, i saw a lot that made me very excited. later in the trip i visited mackinnon and saunders, the puppet making studio that continues to set the standard for high quality stop motion puppets. it was there that the full sized hero characters, with their sophisticated head mechanics, were created. most of the puppets that were made there had already been shipped to the studio in london, but there were still enough odds and ends on hand to make my excitement for this project grow even more. wes anderson had made a point to mention on many occasions that ladislas starevitch's the tale of the fox was a major influence on his wanting to do a stop motion film, and particularly one with animals. after seeing the animal puppets for this film, the influence was unmistakable. i was won over by the look, but was curious to see how they were going to look when the came to life on screen.
as many of you are probably aware, during the weeks preceding the film's release there had been some minor controversy in regard to anderson's method of directing the film. pairing this flurry of bad press with a somewhat flat trailer, i admit that i was feeling very tentative going into this one. but... I LOVED IT. so much for bored journalists building up negative hype! i thought this was one of the very best films of the year. it was everything that a movie for kids should be. (in a related side note, while in NYC last week i made a trip over to the waldrof goodman men's store to take a look at the window displays that are currently featuring puppets and sets from this movie. during the 15 or so minutes that i was in the vicinity there were several children who became super excited as soon as they recognized the contents of the windows, and made their parents stop to let them look at the displays) i've read on various websites where some parents have been displeased with the somewhat vague moral of the story... WHAT EVER. you can be that way if you want. i guess i'm not a traditionalist, and i feel like most children's entertainment is so disgustingly nerfed that i was happy to see the protagonists reverting to their animal instincts in order to assure their survival. how about this for a moral: be yourself. anyway, i was filled with pure joy the entire time i was watching this one. i don't know what happened at the box office, but i absolutely feel like this movie will become a classic in the truest sense. congratulations to everyone involved!

p.s. if anyone knows who animated the shot of bean ransacking his trailer, go find him and buy him a drink on me. i'll pay you back.

and of course with all of these stop-mo films being released this year there is bound to be some friendly competition. while i don't generally place much value on awards one way or another, i have to admit that it has been nice to see coraline, (as well as fox, mary & max, and others) on various nominee and year-end lists. i just noticed a couple of days ago that focus has released a new featurette on the making of coraline in order to drum up renewed interest in the film for the coming award season. while there isn't really any new content in this video, it was good to see a lot of familiar faces during the crew montage segments. if you watch closely you might even see a guy that looks kind of like me.

beyond all that big-budget movie magic, i've been keeping my head down at the studio working on 3 or 4 smaller projects. one is nearing completion, one is halfway finished, and another is just about to take off in earnest. i should be able to share pictures from one of these projects as soon as i finish, so that should give you something to look forward to beyond all of this jibber-jabber. i know i don't post enough pics on here. i'm aware of the problem and i aim to do better.

i can sort of show you guys some stuff from one of the projects that i mentioned in a previous post. my studio-mate shea bordo has been developing this project for about the last year, but it has really gained momentum in the past 6 months or so since we got back from our stint at buddy system. it isn't really MY project, so i'm not going to go into too much detail, but i did want to show a little character test from the puppet i helped build. our other studio-mate rachel larsen, who will be animating the film, has been doing some animation tests using a quick casting that we did in order to find out if the armature was going to perform well enough. unfortunately, i didn't take any pics of the armature before we cast it up for testing. i'll make sure to take some photos of it after any changes i make before we cast the actual puppet. for now, i hope you enjoy this little animation test.

man, i feel like i'm just scraping the surface of what i wanted to post here, but this is getting ridiculously long, and i think i want to stop for now.

dang it, one more thing. i've been following ethan marak's website since well before i knew him personally, and he has been working on a his chemical kid/super battle project for many years. he literally just announced this website showcasing a brand new trailer and lots of great behind the scenes photos. this stuff looks awesome! the keener eyes out there (read: nerds) might notice various armature work by lionel orozco, tom brierton, and wuchan kim.


merry christmas!

this place has been a ghost town for way too long! I KNOW! -i've got lots of fun things in the works for right after the new year, but for now i'm going to enjoy the holidays and try to remember what it felt like to be the little dude in this picture!



yikes! i'm just taking a moment to come up for air over here. i'm very happy to say that i have been quite busy lately making all sorts of exciting things both related to puppets, and... not. good stuff!

since my last posting i've completed... 1... 2... 3... 4... THREE armatures of varying degrees of sophistication. from simple open hole jointed guy to a pretty swanky 16 inch tall hinge and swivel dude. see, i can do an armature for every budget! well, maybe.

here's a stupid pic of the simplest one. all open hole construction 01 tool steel with some nice animator friendly grab blocks. i made this for a young animator named brad schaffer, who i met in LA while working at buddy system studios earlier this year. it seems like brad has been extremely busy with various internships, attending calarts, and part time freelance work, so i can't imagine how he's managing to work on a personal film as well. i was happy to contribute to his project, and i wish him luck in its completion!

by the way, i was just double checking some links, and i noticed that the fellas at buddy system just redesigned their website, and i have to say their updated reel looks really awesome. remind me to tell you about the making of the crash test dummy looking guy in some of those clips. good times!

a couple of weeks ago i had a great opportunity to go out in the middle of NOWHERE in the desert and work on a very cool live action shoot. can't say much more about it, but the crew was great, and it was super fun. it seems like a lifetime ago that i used to do live action art dept stuff, but working this job made me kind of nostalgic for the good old days working with my friends back in atlanta.

and since she helped me so much with my pumpkin headed doofus, it is only fair that i brag on my pal paloma. she's going to be featured in the emerging designer showcase during portland fashion week. i'm really looking forward to seeing her new pieces. i made some components for one of her outfits, and i think it is going to be really cool! her show is this thursday! more info here.

friday i'm driving up to seattle to attend the opening of ryan heshka's new show at roq la rue gallery. they posted a preview of the paintings that will be shown, and the show practically sold out immediately. i'm hoping someone bought this one for me!

that's about all news i've got for today. i'm hoping my next post will include some exciting pics from one of the other puppets i've been working on!

p.s. i can't believe that as of this coming sunday it will have been a WHOLE YEAR since i wrapped on coraline. where does the time go?!


maximum armature design

today i noticed a handful news and blog posts referencing the imminent premier of the upcoming [adult swim] series "titan maximum". this new stop motion animated series was produced by shadow machine, who are the people who are responsible for bringing you shows like "robot chicken" and "morel orel". when i was down in LA earlier this year i took a short break from working on the TOP SECRET stuff at buddy system and built a nice ball and socket armature for the mega-mecha-robot character that the show as named after. (think voltron.) it was not really possible for me to work alongside the crew at shadow machine, but i did visit them a couple of times and i have to say that i was very impressed with the work they were doing. if you are expecting another show with a similar visual aesthetic to robot chicken, i think you will be surprised by the quality of the puppets on this show. in order to make sure the armature would be capable of performing all of its necessary duties once it was out of my hands, i worked closely with animation director ethan marak, and rob ronning and dan field in the puppet department. i give those guys full credit for doing all of the heavy lifting with the puppet design way before i got involved with anything. i just basically just executed a pretty well thought out plan. those guys are sharp, and it was a pleasure to work with them.
i never had a chance to see any footage from the show, so i'll be looking forward to the the series premier on september 27th, just like the rest of you.

here are a couple of those links i was talking about at the top.

p.s. the puppets in the picture above look really nice, but unfortunately i can't take credit for any part of their fabrication. to my knowledge, no pics of the titan puppet have been released as of this posting.

UPDATE: new adultswim titan maximum site with sneak peak trailer thing here.


new puppet

finally, i feel like i've got something cool to show you guys. i've had this project limping along beside me for quite some time, but most of the work has been done over the last couple of months.

it started with a book. i was browsing through powell's one day and i found a little halloween book by illustrator ryan heshka. the book is called ABC spook show. if you have not seen this book yet, i recommend it highly. what strikes me most about heshka's work here is that he seems to really nail the "classic halloween" vibe that i love so much, and makes it feel fresh, new, and completely his own.

as a child i really loved the headless horseman and his flaming jack o' lantern, so i kind of flipped when i saw the j is for jack o' lantern illustration in the book. that was the spark. below is a scan of the image, posted with permission from the artist (thanks ryan!). isn't it great?

i loved this image, but i didn't really know what i was going to do about it. so i guess i decided to... borrow from him a bit. i wanted to try and make a quick and dirty puppet and put together a little halloween "card" video to send to all of my friends, possibly as an invitation to a halloween or birthday party (my birthday is in october). i scribbled a little drawing of my version of the character and set to work... but you know, its hard to do stuff like that and keep up with the day job, so the puppet never really progressed much past that point until very recently. here is my chicken scratch.

i'm extremely fortunate to have a circle of friends to call upon when i (frequently) realize my shortcomings, and i gratefully acknowledge that i had a good deal of help realizing this puppet. the first to help was the lovely and talented vera brosgol who did me a gigantic favor by drawing a full turnaround based on the picture above.

i used the turnaround to help figure out the scale of the puppet, and to assist with making some color choices. i went fabric shopping with some vague ideas in mind, and ended up buying enough fabric to make several variations. i scanned some swatches and played around in the computer until i came up with some schemes i liked. i wound up with about 4 options that i thought were pretty strong, and in the end i think any of them would have looked great. whatever. i am super happy with the one i went with.

i'm pretty sure the next step was making the head, which was sculpted in... uh... hmm. either magic sculp or aves apoxie sculpt, i really can't remember. one of the two for sure. at some point while i was out of town earlier this year shea bordo made me a nice 2 part GI 1110 mold and cast me up some heads to play around with. more recently i painted the head with our new airbrush setup at the studio. i used acrylic paints and ink washes followed by a nice protective layer of crystal clear and dulled the finish back down with krylon matte finish 1311. i'm really happy with the way the color turned out.

the armature is really straightforward. nothing fancy. i gave him an extra body joint just in case he ever feels like doing some acrobatics or breakdancing some time down the road. this was always going to be a costumed puppet, so i had never planned to do a sculpt for the body. i built him up as a simple clip foam body glued together with barge. i topped off the arms and legs with some foam athletic wrap to make the surface a bit more uniform. his little shoes and spats are made out of ladies glove leather.

my favorite part of this puppet is the costume, which was made by the lovely and talented (again!) paloma soledad. paloma designed costumes for several of the characters i worked on during coraline, perhaps most notably miss forcible in her beautiful corset. earlier in the design phase she walked me through a lot of the particulars of puppet costuming at a time when i was still planning on sewing the costume myself. yeah right. maybe next time. it became painfully obvious that it would take me 10 times as long to make something 100 times inferior to what she could do, so i did the smart thing and hired a professional.

total win.

i hope the next time you see this little dude he will be moving around, or at very least hanging out in a swamp or something.



you animation types may have already found this on cartoon brew earlier, but i just learned that the trailer for fantastic mr. fox is out today. find it here.

i had a chance to visit the production last year during my trip to england, but this is the first animation i have seen. i'm really looking forward to seeing this in the fall.



coraline is now out on DVD! buy it here, or here.

as far as i know, laika sent all of the coraline crew members a parcel like the one above sometime last week. inside that handsome wrapper is a copy of the 2 disc coraline dvd. thanks fellas! this is the version of the DVD that has the most extras and bonus features. apparently the blu-ray has even more stuff, but i don't own a player. does anyone know if the shorts from the website are on the blu-ray? if anyone knows the scoop on the additional features, fill me in. as for this edition, i really enjoyed watching the bonus features and seeing so many crew buddies get a little bit of screen time. if you pay close attention to the puppet making doc, you just might see someone you know! (ahem)