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.


Ward Jenkins said...

Mr. Fox was fantastic. I loved it, as well. So did Ava & Ezra - we've seen it twice already. In fact, the second time, we were forced to sit very close to the screen and suddenly all the details were so very apparent to me! It was astonishing to witness all the details that went into that movie. I can only imagine what it was like to see it first-hand, Jeremy.

Good to see a post here, buddy. Might have to give you a call, do a little hanging out or something. Been busy working on this kid's book. Will keep in touch soon, I promise.

mefull said...

I didn't know you got to check out M&K - very nice.
How was it?

j.spake said...

ward: i'm happy the kid-o's liked fox. i'm wanting to see it again before it goes away. of course it will probably be at the beer theaters for a couple of weeks after that.

mark: to put it mildly, i was intensely geeking out the whole time. i'll have a bit more to say about that in the next post. my good friend georgina worked there for 15 years or so, and is like a sister to those two. she was with us, so we got the royal treatment! after hanging out in their shop for a while we all went for a nice long dinner and talked about everything under the sun EXCEPT puppet making. it was quite special.

Ward Jenkins said...

Jeremy, Mr. Fox I see is still playing at Lloyd Mall, but yeah, I'd much rather see it at one of the second run theaters here in Portland. Much cheaper and hey! Beer & pizza!

mefull said...

wow sounds like a great time, looking forward to your post about the trip -