So, it's nearing the end of January and I'm finally getting used to writing the number 2010. We're only two years away from the supposedly dreaded 2012 and a decade away from the famously anticipated 2020. As for this year, it's hard to know what's in store. School advisers always said to prepare for the 5-year question in job interviews - aka, what are you going to be doing by then - and I always used to have an idea of what I would say. I simply figured that if I worked hard and didn't burn any bridges that I would 'climb the ladder' in a fairly predictable way.
Since that time I've realized the question is far less about foretelling my future success and far more about defining what I want in life and trying to generate a path that will lead me there. I've learned the joy of waking up naturally and enthusiastically about going to the studio every morning, rather than feeling trapped in my life, punching an alarm clock and hastily throwing myself out the door to a job I don't like. I was able to learn this despite being separated from my newlywed husband for 10 months while he worked to finish his job in another state. It's a little harder to wake up early in the morning now that our commutes are so long to work, but we still very much enjoy what we do, and it's great to be able to finally live together while doing what we love.
However, things have slowed down at the studio for the moment, so it's been a slow start to the year for me. However, I have so far filled the time with a new demo reel (the web version from December is 1:15, but I recently made a longer 2:40 format on DVD), which I took with me to San Francisco for the annual Animation Mentor winter alumni job fair and open house in Emeryville. For this reel, which primarily featured muppet-like fairy characters from Sesame Street, I had to stress the fact that our rigs were relatively limited and didn't offer much in the way of facial control, but it forced animators to improve upon their posing, timing, and especially speed of delivery since each 3-5 second shot had to be completed in a matter of a day or two. With episodes pushing 11,928 frames (minus a 360-frame "spot" film) and only 13 animators working at the studio, each animator had an average of 890 frames per episode which had to be completed in a couple of weeks. We were taking shots from layout-to-blocking-to-final within a day or two, which demanded a strong work ethic and firey enthusiasm, which wasn't a problem considering our fantastic team, strong leadership, and great office morale and environment. I couldn't help telling recruiters how much I love it at my studio and how much I hope we land some more work, and soon. The word I've heard is that we've so far as doubled ratings for Sesame Street with our show, which is also selling well overseas, so we all fervently hope to earn more episodes and continue our relationship with Sesame Workshop this year.
After the open house and fair, I checked out of the hotel and enjoyed time with my friend Charlotte from the studio and a pretty big handful of my Animation Mentor pals - some from all over the world. We enjoyed dinner at Fuddruckers and later some fun at The Broken Rack.
It also happened to be my birthday weekend, so late that evening I took a train into the city to stay with my best friend Dorothy, who immediately took me out for drinks at a local Irish pub and later a Thai diner, and we didn't go home until 3am. It was the most fun I've had in a long time, and always great to see her. We got up Saturday morning to enjoy Dim Sum nearby her place on Geary Street, followed by a relaxing, beautiful birthday drive up to Napa - particularly a winery called Domaine Carneros where we enjoyed sparkling wines and a delectable cheese plate with among other things probably the best chevre I've ever had in my life. We also visited some garden and specialty stores as well as some antique shops, and finally ate at Michaelangelo's which is my favorite place to eat dinner in Little Italy. Sunday, before I left, we took a walk and lunched in Japantown. It was a really lovely trip, and I wished Naveen could be there, but it was really nice to go alone and spend quality time with Dorothy who I don't get to see very often.
Since my return, I got to meet Tyler Bunch, who is a great puppeteer and perhaps an even greater vocal performer who gave a voice to such characters in our show as Gene the Genie (his personal favorite and the one he felt was the most well-realized by our studio), the Cubby Imp (not yet aired), Niblet, Peck, and cg "anything-muppet" type characters on the show. He visited the studio to lend his voice for some characters we created in a spec project we're hoping to sell, and SpeakeasyFX took him out to lunch at Dillon's where we had celebrated the initial airing of "Abby's Flying Fairy School."
When we returned to the studio, he was telling us all about these performance tools that they use on Sid the Science Kid, which is a show I respect more now that I can envision the technology they are using on it. He has had the opportunity to work with these digital puppeteer performance tools developed at the Jim Henson studios, and to me it sounds like having to learn an instrument or live inside a robot. You have to train every joint, every finger, to handle all kinds of gestures and movement: a thumb opens and closes a mouth, but may also rotate a jaw; fingers may control eyes, eyebrows, cheeks; pitching and rolling the wrist might control something, either position or emotion depending on which hand you're talking about - both hands and arms are used to comprise the emotional and positional acting of the characters. Basically, puppeteers enter into the studio, stand around each other with their arms in these mechanical suits, and complete a controlled mechanical performance while watching the other performers in their suits. Video might capture their facial performance and any subtle body language, and an audio record captures the voice they give their characters - all while able to hear and communicate with the director in the booth who may be demanding acting changes on the fly or suggesting retakes. It sounded like a very high-tech take on what used to be a low-tech entertainment industry, but puppeteers and puppeteering will always have their place on shows like Sesame Street and in live performance in front of audiences. That's where that magic takes place, anyway - with children surrounding and interacting with the puppets. It was a joy talking with Tyler and at the end of the day we gave him a still featuring one of his characters from our studio-favorite episode, "The Cubby Imp," which has not yet aired.
So for now, we are waiting on spec projects to generate more revenue for the company and bring everyone back on staff. Tonight I am wiping the old, corrupted laptop because Naveen is bringing home a brand new Dell Mini-tower and monitor, which he ordered a while back as a Christmas-birthday gift for me. I'm psyched to get it hooked up and animating again! Catchya later.