Saturday, May 26, 2007


It took me all day to publish this on my blog. I wrote all of it out this morning, a minute-long animated short, and then I spent the entire day thinking about the family I would be dedicating this film to - I know they are out there online, and I've kept in touch with them, so I would want to tell them in person or over the phone before they would ever see this. But, I thought I'd at least share it with you, especially in a place where I'll remember to look forward to my next project. When I finish it, if it is worthy, I intend to ask them if it would be all right to make an official dedication.

On a brief sidenote, just to point something out: lately I've been struggling to find inspiration. It's been a tough several months and although I still love what I'm doing, I've occasionally become overwhelmed with ideas about work, marriage, family, friends, and the whole nine yards. People I look up to often suggest turning to whatever inspires me, but for some reason I've been overlooking the obvious for the longest time. Today I finally hammered it out - life itself inspires me - people and their unique journey through it, and perception of it - and for me, a lot of that is manifest in my dreams. I'll elaborate more on that later. For now, back to talking about this film...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

About 'Audrey'

'Audrey' came to me in a dream in the waking hours of the morning on May 26, 2006. The night before I had seen a movie which employed the soft, eerie sounds of a musicbox to transform the mood to that of innocence and youth. I think it was this sound that triggered me to think about my childhood. Before high school, I lived in Peoria, Illinois in a nice suburban area - a good place to grow up - with many neighborhood children. Many of them were a bit younger than I was, which meant once I got to a certain age, I could babysit for them. I started when I was 11 or 12, babysitting my kid neighbors, a girl about 8 and her brother, about 5. By the following year I had babysat around the neighborhood enough that other neighbors with very young children were allowing me to watch over them. One family across the street had a very small boy just out of his toddler years - a very sweet boy who loved cars and his PlaySchool adjustable basketball hoop. His parents were very protective of him, always with him and guiding him, but now they were ready to let go and allow a 13 year old to watch him. He had wonderful toys in his garage, which was his favorite place to play along with his driveway. He was a very sweet boy. I remember going across the street once just to say hello, and he ran across his driveway to jump up and give me a koala bear hug - so attached, both his arms and legs wrapped around me and smiling with bright eyes, about a thousand freckles, and two outstanding top eye teeth, infinitely charming.

The time came that my father told our family we were moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana - hard words to hear for my sister and I who loved our safe, friendly neighborhood and all we knew. We didn't know that we would be attending some great schools and meeting some incredible people - all we knew was that we were leaving the town we grew up in. Through the late spring before our move, I continued to babysit for the family with the young boy. They now had a baby girl, as well - the youngest child I've ever watched, only a few months old. It was scary, but with my own mother across the street, I always had someone I could call on for help myself if I needed it.

Soon the movers arrived and all of our treasured things were being clumsily thrown into boxes. I tried to pack my belongings quickly so that these strange people wouldn't have to touch them and possibly break them. I handled everything of mine with care as swiftly as possible, stopping only occasionally for a melancholy glance out my bedroom window, or a quick turn of my favorite musicbox. I remembered the times I used to run around my room, winding every music box up to all play at the same time. It was an insanely delightful sound which I loved to unleash on my family - but on this particular day, I only wound the one: a lonely looking porcelain girl in a flowing peasant nightgown, holding a teddy bear and wearing a night cap, and looking off into nowhere as her box played "Where Are The Clowns." Probably the saddest music box for a child to grow up with, but one that I loved anyway, and it was surely fitting to play it as I sadly put everything into boxes to be taken to a strange new place.

It certainly wasn't easy, but surely enough we made the transition and learned to love our new hometown, schools, and friends, and I grew up. Before long I became a senior in high school, with aspirations of becoming a computer animator, and an eye toward college life. I was taking art and computer graphics classes, but also an advanced physics class and advanced English. I was growing with the opportunities that surrounded me, and I was so thankful to have moved to such a fantastic environment. I did long to visit my past, however, and looked forward to a day I could go back to visit. That's why I was thrilled one night, as I headed to the downstairs computer to type a paper, when I checked my email and saw a new message from one of my old neighbors. I opened it quickly with a smile stretched across my face, awaiting news of what life was like back in Peoria.

How brief that joyful moment was. It was a very short note, only a few sentences long, and possibly the worst way to deliver the absolute worst kind of news. In one shocking moment, I learned that the freckled boy I used to babysit had died in a drowning accident. He was only six years old. I remember the awful feeling - bursting into horribly uncontrollable tears and screaming, somehow making my way back up the stairs and into the arms of my family, who had to interpret what had happened from my wailing, almost indecipherable cries. They were as shocked as I was, and trying unsuccessfully to console me. It was some time later that I found out what had happened. His usually very protective, watchful parents decided to allow him to go with a friend and his family to a local swimming pool. The two boys were playing a game to see how long they each could hold their breath under water. One boy eventually came up for air - the other, sadly, didn't - and worse, none of the adults or lifeguards noticed right away, and when they did, they were too shocked to know what to do, and the boy was not saved.

To this day it is heartwrenching. I still think about him from time to time, wondering if his charismatic freckles would have ever faded, or if he would have ever gotten braces, or if he would have always been the sweet, unconditionally loving and loveable person that he was. I wrote to his parents for a few years after that, but stopped eventually some time in college, realizing the need to let go of the pain. They still had their daughter, of course, and had to learn all over again how to let go, and to let faith and trust in God guide their actions as parents.

So the morning I woke up from a dream about a girl who drowned and the pain her mother went through, backed by the sad, soft tones of a distant musicbox, I immediately thought of this boy and his family, and I dedicate this piece to them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Film


1 minute short, opens with black screen, title fading in and then out.
Using part of Unbreakable soundtrack with music box type theme.
Note: This story is protected by Copyright and has been published at

Scene Begins:

Shot 1:
While still immersed in black, we hear a quiet voice.
Mother: "I had another dream last night..."

Fade in from black. Shot opens in a backyard with a lake. It is pouring buckets of rain, with deep grays in the sky. It is probably 4 or 5 in the morning.
Camera dollys out from backyard through a windowpane (zoom/crossfade if necessary). Camera continues to dolly out until it pulls back enough, wide shot, slight rack focus to see a woman sitting screen left at an empty kitchen table, sitting alone and looking down at her hands.

Shot 2:
High angle wide shot of woman on left third. She utters a question as if still partly in sleep, briefly tilting her head upward, eyes nearly closed, breathing deeply, remorse on her face.
Mother: "What happened to you, Audrey?"

Shot 3:
Medium close up shot of woman on left third. Somewhat low angle, to see her face (looking downward with eyes closed). Very slight (unnoticeable), eased dolly in as a small voice of young girl is heard, perhaps four years old (not seen).
Voice of Audrey: "I.. flooded..."

Mother's eyes open slightly and begin searching, head still down. Again, sleepily, she utters a question, disoriented as if in a dream.
Mother: "You, what?"

Shot 4:
As mother finishes question, eyes open slightly more and her head turns toward the window. She stands and faces away from camera, stepping toward the window, floor creaking. Camera dollys out to a long shot at a slight low angle, with slight rack focus to see apparition of Audrey (over the shoulder shot, Audrey on right third). We see her mouth moving and she is very still like a statue, eyes fixed on her mother. She speaks, sounding exactly the same as before.
Audrey: "I.. flooded."

Shot 5:
(Camera 90 CCW) Medium close up of woman on screen left, touching the window with her left hand, resting her right hand on the sink, and blinking her heavy eyelids, squinting to see through the rain. In the background we can see on the shelf a picture of Audrey with a red ribbon in her hair, wearing a striped bathing suit and squatting near a bucket and shovel in the sand.

Shot 6:
(Camera 90 CW back to original rotation - b.o.r.) Zoom in through single window pane to see a pond in the backyard. Beyond that, some hedges and a field. Trees framing the shot.

Shot 7:
(Camera 90 CCW) Close up of woman's face as her eyes come open and breathes a small gasp.

Shot 8:
(Camera 90 CW b.o.r.) Seeing through glass pane. Apparition of Audrey, posing as if comfortably asleep in her bed, at the edge of the water.

Shot 9:
(Camera 90 CCW) Extreme close up of woman's face, pained by the sight of her daughter fading.

Shot 10:
(Camera 90 CW b.o.r.) Seeing through glass pane one last time. Apparition fades, the glow spreading out over the water, and disappearing. Rain is still pouring.

Shot 11:
(Camera 90 CCW) Medium close up of woman as she sighs painfully and turns away from the window. We hear the floor creaking and a chair being pulled slightly.

Shot 12:
(Camera 90 CW b.o.r.) Wide shot of kitchen as woman eases herself back into chair, holding table to steady herself on the way down.
Mother: "I wish... I could have been there..."

Woman cups her hands to the sides of her forehead to suppress her emotion.

Shot 13:
Close up, low-angle shot of woman's face (looking downward). Hands quivering slightly, she closes her hands over her eyes as she speaks her daughter's name in a bellowed whisper.
Mother: "Audrey..."

Slight dolly in (barely noticeable). The rain can be heard letting up outside. A floorboard creaks. A slight glow lights upon the woman's face, and quickly vanishes. Woman turns head away from cupped hands (toward camera) to peer open her eyes.

Shot 14:
Medium shot of woman at table glancing around her kitchen, her hands still cupped closed in mid air, elbows bent and resting on table. Rain is stopping and sky is somewhat brighter momentarily. Acknowledging nothing, she turns back toward her hands and hunches slightly forward. Her eyes fade into her hands to hide, but then open back up as she lifts her head, as if cautiously surprised.

Shot 15:
POV shot toward hands as they open up slightly. A crack of light shows something thin and red. Hands open further, cautiously exposing a curled red ribbon lying in her palms facing the camera. Hands glow slightly.

Shot 16:
Medium close up of woman at the table, looking at the ribbon in her hands. She raises her shoulders and brings it to her face, breathing it in. She puts it to her chest as she lifts her head and then bows over her hands closed around the ribbon next to her heart, elbows still on table, bent over as if praying. Begins to rock side to side slightly.

Shot 17:
(Camera 90 CW) Medium close up from behind the woman sitting in her chair, head down, rocking slightly from side to side, still subtle but more obviously now, almost like a mother rocking her baby. Apparition is seen standing next to her mother (both are centered in the frame as camera dollys out). Audrey (on the right) fades out first, as mother keeps rocking with her head down. Then fade to black.

Scene Ends.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I'll accept any criticism in comments below, or feel free to send me an email.
Note: This story is protected by Copyright and has been published at

Shout Out - Will Kistler

I first officially met Will Kistler at Purdue in the fall of 2002 during our CGT 241 class. Later, he and I were part of a team of five students who were first to be involved in a special "Crazy Rig" collaborative project, in which we worked with a professor on a (pending) publication specifically for animal, anthropomorphic, and otherwise "crazy" rigging techniques. Then in 2004, Will and I traveled to the cities of Warsaw, Krakow, Rzeszow, and Posnan, in Poland. We were two of eight students selected to journey with two professors to a couple of private universities and teach a broad range of computer graphics skills and theory. We graduated from our own program with animation specializations in May of 2005.

I've kept in touch with Will over the last couple years primarily online, and otherwise at SIGGRAPH conferences. We've also been students at Animation Mentor - he started a few classes earlier than me and graduated from the program in early January of 2007. He recently returned from a year-long teaching gig in Japan.

Now, in one week from today, he will be on his way to Los Angeles to begin a month-long animation apprenticeship at Rhythm and Hues. Of course, if he shows them his true colors, this could turn into a more permanent position for Will, which of course would be awesome. He applied for the spot after seeing its availability on the AM job board. It's a pretty sweet deal, and I'm so excited he got the chance.

Congrats, Will, and best of luck!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Random Balance

I've seen this video before, but I think it's interesting so I figured I'd post it here so I wouldn't lose it.

Anyway, so I had a really awesome, productive day Monday, followed by 2 really crappy, unproductive days. Crappy, because I was tired (I was getting up earlier and staying up later), and I didn't have a good workout on Tuesday (Weds. was ok, but I was still stiff from Monday), and I didn't have any coffee or fresh fruit to keep me going throughout the day. Among a few other regrets, I put my feet up after a work-related fiasco (that is, for CVC): old source files being lost somewhere on the servers, data not being backed up correctly, lack of organization or assignment clarity, and various other problems that I didn't cause but which made my day pretty stinky. It isn't always like this - but they're hitting another busy season and trying to rope me in last minute to solve certain issues. So all in all, that's what made it unproductive - I spent most of that day waiting on files that never came (they finally arrived this afternoon). Now I have about half a day to get done about 29 pages of an event program using InDesign, which of course is due to the printers sometime tomorrow.

Additionally I've been somewhat concerned that I might not make it to SIGGRAPH this year. It would be my fifth year, back in San Diego again which would be lovely. Unfortunately, though, Naveen has no way of going, and the only friends I know who are going are Team Leaders and people who have their housing arranged. Even with the cheapest hotel out there, the cost would be $1000 for the week, between the flights, hotel, food, and conference ticket. I could shell it out more easily last year, but remote contract work can vary and since it's the summer, I'm not sure what I can expect. So we'll see...

...and then... there is this incessant beeping coming from the building next to ours, from the electric boxes. It's been beeping about once every four seconds for the last six days. Continuously. I've reported it twice but no one seems to care...

Something else that stunk the other day: finding out that although AM has been promoting the idea of taking a 6-month version of class 6 (vs. the usual 3 months), what that actually means is that you aren't following the usual schedule, and that you are effectively failing the class and retaking it. I find this out after I developed my production schedule, and let me tell you, I wasn't PLANNING to fail, I was planning to use 6 months instead of 3. So now I'm back to considering a 3-month version, even though it's going to go hellaciously fast.

My critique for the final revised animatic didn't go so well either. Even for the amount of time and effort I put into it, it still did not come out the way my mentor would have liked. It's slightly frustrating, because I think we have somewhat different senses of humor. And it wasn't just my animatic - I watched some of my friends' critiques as well, and the changes they made to accommodate for his suggestions made the shorts less funny, in my opinion. That isn't to say they were bad suggestions - but they weren't the original ideas, and I liked the original ideas. I liked the sense of spontaneity and uniqueness... now it seems some people are kind of struggling to find themselves in their films (and I'm one of those people). So now, somehow, I have to revise it again to clarify certain things and lose some of the complexity, despite an already crippling schedule (well, with critical last-minute contract work on top of my AM progress).

That all said, today went well, and I've been mostly productive, so it all seems to balance out. Some days are better than others. Duh.

I have to get ready for class - but I'll be back later. There's something else, more positive, that I have to get off my chest... :-)

Monday, May 21, 2007

I Like My Coffee Like I Like My Mann

Nothing like listening to Aimee Mann and nursing a cup of coffee running a bit luke after dousing it with chocolate caramel creamer and chasing after a new and elaborate list of deadlines.

It's starting.

Now that class 5 is well-over halfway through, we are finally getting back into Maya and starting production on our short film. The next three weeks will be spent on layout, which should be interesting. Here are my deadlines for the week:

Also sometime soon I plan on uploading a lot of my latest art and animation to my website as soon as I can. I'll also post my Magic Show story animatic as some of you have requested.

For now, I've gotta get back to modeling my theater set. Thank goodness for production schedules...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Calculating A Story's Worth

A couple of posts ago I went on to say I'm going ahead with the Magic Show project. I think I mentioned there were various pros to this story: it features more escalation than any of the other stories I had conjured up at the time (including the climax when he accidentally saws the lady in half - it seems that physical gags like this can do a beginner a lot of good), and then there's the general feel I have about it (that this minute-long short will be fun to do and a challenge as well).

Now that I've started, however, I am already having some doubts. (Thus, the purpose of this entry is to tackle these doubts by strengthening either the story or the existing visuals in my animatic).

Who is my character, exactly? I've set him up in my head as this proud, egotistical magician who gets knocked down a few notches when his tricks go wrong - but where is his background evident in my story? Where can the audience find that annoyed feeling that they're looking at someone who is really pompous? Why are they invested in watching him fail his tricks?

Another issue dealing with character: a lot of short films I've liked involve a character who I can identify with, even if their situation is entirely unique to them. Somehow the animator (or film maker) has injected some universal personality traits or a couple seconds of empathy (or empathetic humor, in this case) so that by the end the viewer buys the story and wants a resolution.

While I wanted elements of my short to act like a 'gag reel,' I want to show some decent acting ability simultaneously. This will be difficult, because my character is already acting. He's on a stage, performing for viewers in his audience, which is unfolding in front of my audience. Immediately his acting will appear somewhat phony simply because he is onstage the entire time (until he is arrested). My audience won't know whether they really know the real magic man, because he is already putting on a show.

I'm going to have to do my research and watch Will Arnett tackle his character Job Bluth on Arrested Development. I think he does a good job of showing his character's true personality even during his magic shows - he begins with a very staged appearance, but at various times during the show, his true self leaks through when he is embarrassed or when things go wrong. I'll have to refer back to season 1 though, since once again I don't want my audience to have to rely on a particular back story. Everything will have to be implied through his nature.

I haven't given him any dialogue either. And I don't mind... Pantomime is said to be a great way to get in the door... but I really do like lip synching, so I may find a line or two that will help his personality shine through. On the whole, in the end, it's better to imply that kind of thing rather than to say it out loud... but maybe something appropriate will crawl out of my brain one of these days.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spiderman 3

Ok, just a disclaimer... if you haven't seen it yet, don't read this.

Is it safe?

Can I start talking now?

Are they all gone? Everyone still here has seen it, right?

Ok....So, what on earth was that?

We saw Spidey 3 for my fiance's birthday. We were prepared, not for ultimate disappointment, but knew that there were too many characters in this film for it to be a great story. We were anticipating a boatload of awesome film effects, but we figured at times there might be too much going on in the plot for it to send a clear message.

(Last chance. If you haven't seen it, stop reading.)

So at the end of the movie, was anyone satisfied? A funeral, with no dialogue between the remaining characters, but a voiceover about choice? I mean, it didn't have to be a happy ending... but it shouldn't have been a narration of the obvious message that had been playing out through story and character for the past three movies.

Utlimately, in my opinion, the climax was the moment Harry chose to save Peter's life by losing his own. After that, Spiderman has the renewed will and strength to end the battle, trying (but failing) to save the other photographer's life (and destroy the dark 'ego' creature) and forgiving the Sand Man who was only trying to save his daughter and made a fatal mistake (accidentally killing Peter's uncle)... it's all beautiful in writing, but I don't feel as though it was executed in the best way.

Namely, the film focus was split a little too much. While this should have been Harry's movie - with the focus being on his character arc - we are distracted by this black thing that falls out of the sky. Somehow, a radioactive spider bite, biting a guy and turning him into Spiderman, we could understand. A guy falling into some kind of particle accelerator and becoming the Sand Man, we can even buy that. It's the back story. We can empathize with the characters, and we find the 'science' behind them believable, although fictional. But a meteorite that falls out of the sky and poops out a black blob that chases Peter around and consumes him with evil powers? What???

Obviously it fell while Peter and MJ were watching shooting stars. You don't have to explain the symbolism to me. I get it... Life is beautiful... look at the magical shooting stars... Out of no where comes this other personality, this creeping, slithering, all-encompassing darkness - this black as night, poisonous, aggressive, vengeful ego. Only, rather than just letting it be a part of Peter's imperfection that must be conquered, it's this sci-fi thing with no back story that falls out of the sky.

Once again, I get it. It's Spiderman, not a nonfiction novel. It's actually totally cool that his ego is represented in this way - and that it's transferrable to other ego-centric, power-hungry people around him like the photographer. It seems to have some effect on MJ too, who all of a sudden seemed ultra sensitive and self-involved (at least, it seemed out of her character to me - but then, she did get one bad review and had to turn to waitressing, after all the fame and success she won in the second movie). Yeah. That totally makes sense.

So yes... all of these elements were good. They weren't bad ideas.. I just think they could have been executed better. The only thing I could latch onto, or reflect on about the movie, was the sense of torment in each of their lives. To start with, the filmmakers should have addressed one more time Uncle Ben's warning, "with great power comes great responsibility." I think one more reminder of that would have set the stage in the first 20 minutes of the movie.

Instead, we see Peter in sublime happiness. There is so much focus on his pride and joy, and speaking with his Aunt about wanting to propose to MJ... All these are positive elements... so we forget about the ego, that maybe he's a little too proud, and we sympathize with him when we find out that MJ starts trusting Harry more than Peter (about losing her job). MJ was practically unapproachable for Peter. Why? Because he talked about himself all the time. BIG EGO. But, she also has a big ego as a star (remember her in the second movie?)... and, as an audience, we are so charmed by the good in Peter that we forgive when he kisses the police chief's daughter as a publicity stunt, and somehow we feel bad for him when MJ calls Harry and later kisses him. We don't focus enough on the negative effect of Peter's ego until he dons the black outfit.

And yes, the ending where Harry jumps in front of Peter is a surprise, although it makes some amount of sense. Again, we felt a lot of torment for Harry through his struggle to avenge his father, but turning back to his friendships in the end... This was another area of poor execution. Why, after being so angry, could Harry be so open to hear plainly (out of the blue, conveniently timed near the end) that when the butler cleaned his father's wounds, he could determine it wasn't Peter's fault??? Why hadn't the butler told him this before? True, Harry had been affected by amnesia for the first part of the movie, but it just seems too convenient that the butler chose to tell Harry this crucial fact just the moment that Peter is in danger. The butler himself isn't developed enough to consider the reason behind this choice.

In the end, on paper, after thinking about all these elements, this is really a fantastic story that unfortunately wasn't entirely believable for me. I just didn't buy it, especially with the voiceover at the end, the message of choice mopping up the remnants of good actors and good ideas that just weren't developed on screen enough. Maybe after this rant I can go back to it a second time and appreciate it more, understanding the intent. Until then, you can let me know what you thought!!!