Sound Editing in Drawings

After recording 20 actors we had to sit down with our sound designer Arjun Sheth to select good takes and put together the audio track - line by line, character by character, scene by scene. It is a very tedious job that requires high levels of concentration. To document the process of making "My Love Affair With Marriage" we allowed one small distraction - my intern Angie Jimenez from Rudolf Steiner School came with his drawing tools and furiously sketched our intense sound edit session. Angie is a very talented artist and I wanted to share his talents with you.

 Here's Arjun by his work table, making sure we get to select the best takes. 

Here's Arjun by his work table, making sure we get to select the best takes. 

 Right behind Arjun is Sturgis Warner, the film's co-producer and casting director, who is carefully listening to different takes.  Internal intensity only looks sleepy from the outside. 

Right behind Arjun is Sturgis Warner, the film's co-producer and casting director, who is carefully listening to different takes.  Internal intensity only looks sleepy from the outside. 

 And this is me. Although it looks like I am half asleep, I am listening carefully to the several takes of the line that is in the speech bubble so that I could form an opinion before we discuss which take is the best.

And this is me. Although it looks like I am half asleep, I am listening carefully to the several takes of the line that is in the speech bubble so that I could form an opinion before we discuss which take is the best.

 The close-up of Arjun who is also listening. He has an excellent ear!

The close-up of Arjun who is also listening. He has an excellent ear!

 Sturgis here looks very intent. Good work is getting done!

Sturgis here looks very intent. Good work is getting done!

Next we travel to LA to record more actors. Stay tuned!

My Song to Graduating Students

Don't you sometimes wonder why we, the people from Eastern Europe, young and old, are scattered around Europe and the rest of the world? Perhaps just like the steam escaping pressure cooking pot we want to mingle with the gentle and permissive molecules of air outside the pot?

Time to time a European or American person aspiring to be an animator sends me a message asking where is the best place to study animation. I don't even have to think about it.

- Estonia or Czech Republic, - is my instant replay. 

But then one day, to my surprise, I received the following message: "I am an Estonian animation student based in London and it is part of our third year project to ask advice from artists who inspire us. I have a couple of questions for you."

Why would an Estonian go to study animation in London and why would she want an advise from someone who has never studied animation?

Life is mysterious and world is populated with people who who have their secret reasons to move from one place to another (I will reveal you mine if you ask).  After exchanging few messages with the Estonian animation student based in London - Sofja Umarik - we agreed that I will reply to her questions on my blog.

Question number one: "How do you manage to keep creating meaningful and beautiful films despite the industry pressure (and finance)? It has always been my dream to create films with deep impact, but I feel like nowadays it's very difficult unless you are making an independent film in the evening after work."

My answer: There are many beautiful and meaningful animated films. In fact, there are so many beautiful and meaningful animated shorts that it is nearly impossible to get your short film into a film festival unless its something truly spectacular or mind-blowing (my latest short "The ABC of Travel" is only cute and got so many rejections that I stopped submitting). Maybe it is different for animated feature films because feature films require putting together financial puzzle and that repels quite a few artists but attracts producer types. In any case, there is nothing wrong (or unusual) to make an independent film after work, that's how most animators start out.

One answer to your question is - I was able to make "Rocks In My Pockets" because I was willing to produce it myself. I am bad with numbers so budgeting and accounting was truly painful, but that's what I had to do as a producer. At the start of the project I made a budget (which was sort of delusional - reality adjusted it fast) and raised the money I thought I needed through fundraising events and non-profit donations, and when the project run out of money I started a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter campaign connected me with new partners who were willing to share the producing burden with me and we were able to finish the film without me starving to death. I know a few animator friends who make money making commercials and then put that money into their independent films. It's just the question of how you want to spend your time: making commercials or fundraising and accounting. I personally like thinking about my projects (and not commercials) all the time and I like building partnerships around them. Also - writing project proposals and making budgets can educate you about the project you want to make. 

The other answer to your question is: I am able to continue to make my films because I sacrifice the parts of my life that other people are not willing to sacrifice - family, children, friends, pets, regular income, financial security, new clothes, car or house. Any one of those things would hinder my ability to make films. I am an animation nun. 

Question two: What advice would you give to a graduate trying to enter the industry?

My answer: I think it is very important to figure out early what you want to do and why. If you want to use your art skills to make some money, it's fair. Just don't cry that you don't get to make Art. If you decide that you'd like to make your own films to express your Deeper Self, then you really have to know why is it important for the rest of the world that you express your Deeper Self. The practical implications of making independent films will make your family and all your friends freak out and grill you about your sanity and financial savvy. "You spent how much money to make a DCP?" - they will ask and shudder when you reply. "You paid your rent with your last money and have no income to make the next rent!?!" - they'll scream. 

"WHY do you do this?" - they will ask. "It makes no sense!"

So I prepared an answer that actually makes sense, at least to me: I spend all my money on my films and endure financial risks and live in constant stress because making films is my purpose. Like fish swim in creeks, birds fly in the sky, I make films because I cannot not make them.

I make films because I do believe in an individual voice telling a unique story that the Hollywood money-making machine cannot tell.  I believe in Art as Self Expression and I want to defy the notion that one's worth can be measured by how much money she makes.

My advise on a practical level is something you have probably heard already many times, but we all know who is the Mother of Learning (Repetition), so here it goes:

To enter the industry, start with an internship/apprenticeship and make yourself irreplaceable there.

Contact accomplished animators, ask them for an advise - make a connection. Be nice. Keep in touch. Make friends with them.

If you started a project, finish it. Nothing is more demoralizing than a personal landscape littered with unfinished homework.

Treat your work as work (the most stupid quote of all times is "If you do what you love you will never have to work a day in your life", which is absolutely not true - work is work, no matter if you love or hate it). Treat your work with discipline and respect, please. Even if you work at home - get up at the same time, put your best clothes and shoes on,  get to work at the same time, eat lunch at the same time and stop working at the same time, if you can. Take one day a week off  to live a little. 

Start with what you know an build from there. Dream big, but build from the ground up. Form or find a community around yourself of like-minded people who will support and challenge you. Make films consistently - it helps to build a following. Use social media wisely (so that it doesn't consume you and all your time). Make space for boredom so you can open gates to new ideas. Read many books, watch many films (not just animation). Learn what is it what you make an impact about.

Watch people. Think about people. Understand motivations of people. Study acting to enrich the vocabulary of your animated characters. Dance. 

Find a purpose in what you do. Submit your life to something good and bigger than you and you'll be all right.

Graduate

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Scintillating Rapture

We all know that the mundane drifts towards sacred knowledge and from time to time it gives us a flash of awareness of what's behind the boring curtain of the reality we live in. Almost like a presque vu but with a headache.

The other day at 9 AM sharp I arrived at my local post office to ship 30 Kickstarter packages internationally.  Rosa, the post office clerk, had to scale each package, type my and the destination's address into the computer, put the the customs form into a plastic cover, attach it onto the envelope and set it aside for pick-up. Each package took about 5 minutes for her to process. After Rosa worked on 3 packages I did my calculations: 5 minutes x 30 packages = 150 minutes = 2, 5 hours + after every 10 packages Rosa has to take a couple of other customers for 10 minutes so that line doesn't get too long = 3 hours in the post office at minimum.

It was pretty certain that Rosa will not process my packages unless  I was there by her window. So I resigned myself to the 3 hour wait (you can fly from JFK to Miami in 3 hours!).

To make my wait to seem shorter I pulled out my sketchbook and started to draw. My favorite drawing exercise is to follow where ever the first 3 random lines lead me.

I drew this:

And then I drew that:

But when I started another drawing I noticed that I was not able to to see it as a whole, parts of it were blocked out by some blurry spots of non-vision, like this:

- Oh no! - I thought in a flash of panic. - My eyesight it getting really bad. What if I am not able to draw all the 30,000 drawings for my new animated feature film? My Kickstarter backers will be upset! My whole career will be destroyed! And what about my reputation!

I looked around. The rest of the world also had spots of this non-vision. Another, more alarming thought entered my mind.

- What if this is not trouble with my vision but with my brain? What if I am experiencing brain hemorrhage?

My heart started to pound. I wanted to shout out to the other 9 customers standing in line:

- Call 911! I am about to pass out!

But I remembered that for the last 20 minutes those 9 customers had been casting ill wishing stares at me and my suitcase full of international packages that had yet to be processed. 

I turned and looked at Rosa. Suddenly, the spots of non-vision turned into a bright shimmering sharp joint zigzag lines that looked like Great China Wall that decided to be more aggressive on both sides.

- Ah! - I sighed with relief.  - I know what this is!

It was the Scintillating Scotoma that I experienced for the first and only time on February 14, 2013, 7 hours after our Kicstarter campaign for "Rocks In My Pockets" had concluded. This Scintillating Scotoma was followed by a paralyzing headache. And I think it ripped the fabric of my brain in some places because afterwards I was dizzy for 3 weeks as if I was walking on a ship crossing stormy seas. Holding onto walls while walking was my solution.

I knew now what would happen. As Rosa processed the package to Australia a mild headache hit and followed me when I returned home for lunch at 1 PM.

To show respect and become more friendly with the pain and scotoma, I looked up its description on Wikipedia: 

"Some describe seeing one or more shimmering arcs of white or colored flashing lights. An arc may take the form of a definite zigzag pattern, sometimes called a fortification spectrum, because of its resemblance to the fortifications of a castle or fort seen from above."

YES. How did they know? 

Suddenly, this very special and very personal event of experiencing migraine aura in the post office became a super social event that connected me with millions of people before me, after me and people alive now. If I was able to describe my personal scintillating scotoma as zigzagy fortifications of a castle or fort seen from above and millions and millions of other people described it as the same, how could we not say that our brains are made of the same material producing the same effect when presented with circumstances of stress, too much caffeine and a long wait in post office?

It felt assuring that my brain produced the same magical electric hiccup as did the brains of other people. It was a proof that I was human. And for reasons unknown I was chosen to be given the sacred knowledge of Scintillating Scatoma even if it ripped the fabric of my frail brain one more time. 

 

 

 

 

 

International Women's Day

Since I woke up this morning I keep seeing posts like "Happy International Women's Day, Dear Women!". They seem well meaning but just don't make me feel the overwhelming happiness for the day that was supposed to celebrate my gender. And what does it even mean to celebrate women?

It reminds me of March 8 in Soviet Union, where those celebrations served as a mix of a Valentine's Day and a ritual of penance and absolution of one's (mostly male) sins. All a man had to do on March 8 was to show up with a bunch of red tulips on the doorsteps of all the females he had wronged and say: " Happy Women's Day, dear women! I love you so much!" and all the abuse he caused for a year was forgiven and forgotten. 

I don't want women to be celebrated in exchange for absolution. We need no celebration, no flowers, no sweet greetings. We need true equality. The original March 8 in 1917 showed the power of women. Then the meaning of the day was hijacked and corrupted to keep women placated and away from the real power of governing and wealth. 

This March 8 put your marching boots on and join the March forward!

The Kickstarter Drama in Pictures

The story goes like this: a small independent animated feature film "My Love Affair With Marriage" is in love and would like to get funded. It decides to propose. Dramatics twists and turns entail.

You can continue to support "My Love Affair With Marriage" on KickstartMarriageFilm.com

THANK YOU!

The Year Between Moons

I have met people who follow astrological instructions to the letter, and met people who dismiss astrology as a hoax. Personally, I like astrology and horoscopes. They make me think where I am in my life at the moment and help to define what I want from the future.

The Chinese measure their years with the help of 12 animals (one of them - Dragon - is an imaginary beast). A year ago we celebrated the start of the year of the Monkey. We were promised a year that rewarded wit and opportunism. "An auspicious time to start new projects"! - one of the horoscopes advised. So I made the following greeting card to celebrate the year of the Monkey:

Opportunism, I thought, is my second skin. I love opportunities. And I started a new project, as advised. 

But before long, in March, my landlords informed that they are not extending my lease. I was too small a fish for their liking.

- Move out so we can make more money! - they said.

After a frantic 7 week search we found a space that suited the needs of my operation of building and filming sets. But it was more expensive and needed some serious work before moving the studio in. To save money, we laid the floors and build the walls ourselves nearly breaking our backs, and in June moved the studio.  

In August the elections started shaping up and to help my candidate who was running against a person with a short attention span, I went every weekend to Pennsylvania to canvass for her. It is not possible for her to lose, I thought. She is too good and her opponent is too loose.

But to a great shock of at least 66 million people who rooted for her, she lost. 

- What is this? - I demanded to know from the Astrology books. - What kind of Monkey is this? - I yelled.

Then I saw in the small print under the predictions: due to Monkey's short attention span, the year will be full of unexpected turns and twists. Things could turn on a dime.

Which they surely did.

Opportunities, I realized, in 2016 were for the monkeys sitting on higher branches. My brand of opportunism didn't get to score in a year of this Monkey. 

So I turned my hopeful eyes to the next year - which is starting today- to the year of the Rooster. What does it promise and what is in the small print that I should know about?

The Rooster loves intense drama, the horoscope says. Organize and persist. The year will reward commitment and hard work.

- Oh well, - I said. - That means I have to start a Kickstarter campaign.

Because I can't imagine harder and more intense work than running a Kickstarter campaign.

So made a card to welcome you to the Year of the Rooster:

And I started a Kickstarter campaign for my new animated feature film "My Love Affair With Marriage". Because, you know, peck by peck I can collect a few thousand grains. I organize, I commit, I persist and work hard. What can go wrong?

 

 

 

Road to a Grumpy Crow

A few hours before my HOLIDAY SPECIAL offer expired an order for came in with the following instructions:

"My creature of choice would be a crow. I love crows. People think crows are wise, and mystical, but I reckon that's probably not entirely true. They're grumpy, and badass, and think the world revolves around them. Also they have to put up with an awful lot of bad weather. They have to live up in the trees!"

The description of crows reminded me of this bird:

 Lives on trees. Is quarrelsome. Very social. Has reputation.

Lives on trees. Is quarrelsome. Very social. Has reputation.

But that is called Rook or Jackdaw. While THIS bird below is what people in my country call a Crow:

 Lives on trees and streets. Promiscuous in regards to food (will eat garbage). 

Lives on trees and streets. Promiscuous in regards to food (will eat garbage). 

So I sent a message to Richard (the person who ordered the drawing) and asked to clarify. He instantly replied with the image of this bird: 

 Screams a lot. Grumpy.

Screams a lot. Grumpy.

And another image - of the sculpture he made of the bird:

 An image of a bird who lives on trees made out of a tree!

An image of a bird who lives on trees made out of a tree!

Richard, it turned out, is an accomplished artist who besides all other things does artwork on commission. You can see his work HERE and HERE and HERE. This is the first time he commissioned another artist to make something for him. I nearly fainted from fretting: just one look at my art will make a real artist recognize what a fraud I am! But work is work. I've already spent the money, so I had to deliver the art. I must dazzle Richard with a brilliant idea so that he wouldn't see my failing at the craft. Would he like this:

 A crow's beak wearing grumpy expression is a mask covering gentle kind soul.

A crow's beak wearing grumpy expression is a mask covering gentle kind soul.

Oh, no, this can't be good enough. Let me try something more interesting:

 Communicating crows deftly defy gravity.

Communicating crows deftly defy gravity.

Meh. I could do better. There is something to the idea of Richard carving an image of a crow out of wood. He also mentioned that he heats his old cold drafty house with firewood. He is taking away trees from freezing crows to keep himself warm. How about this:

 A crow is a tree and Richard had chopped pieces of wood from it.

A crow is a tree and Richard had chopped pieces of wood from it.

Yeah,  but does the idea of a crow related to trees reads well enough in this image? Let me make it more dramatic:

 A crow is freaking out about wood chopped out of him.

A crow is freaking out about wood chopped out of him.

Not sure if the idea reads too well. Its also a touch violent. Let me develop it a little better:

 A crow sits on pieces of wood arranged like a sliced cake.

A crow sits on pieces of wood arranged like a sliced cake.

I am afraid I don't have skills good enough to render this idea clearly enough. Lets try to go in a different direction. I liked one of my first ideas of the crow wearing his beak as a mask:

 A crow is ready for a party but no trees to party on.

A crow is ready for a party but no trees to party on.

Yes, but. I like that crows are black like coal. Like a shadow on a wall. What if the crow had a shadow? But in place of his heart there is a hole for light?

 Crow has a warm heart full of light. It throws a flickery light like a burning stove.

Crow has a warm heart full of light. It throws a flickery light like a burning stove.

But black and black on a white wall will not make a lot of color. I think Richard wants color. Lets see if I can make a colorful drawing with trees being the crow's home:

 - It is my tree, my home. Leave it alone.

- It is my tree, my home. Leave it alone.

Doesn't seem too exciting. Lets return to that other crow drawing and develop it a bit more:

 - My feet may be in the trees but I dream of a house.

- My feet may be in the trees but I dream of a house.

Looks too flat, too 2D. I need a cinematic approach - foreground interplaying with background. Lets try one more time.

 The Crow's dream of a house throws a dark shadow.

The Crow's dream of a house throws a dark shadow.

Well, this is not good, but I am running out of time. Let me just stop at this and make the best of it.

 It is cold on the tree while Richard's house looks kinda warm.

It is cold on the tree while Richard's house looks kinda warm.

The one thing you may not notice at the first glance, that the snow is painted in about 8 layers: first deep purple, then navy blue, then another layer of purple blue, then baby blue mixed with navy blue and so on. You will see all the colors if you pout the drawing in water. But then you may not have the drawing. 

Richard liked it.