Sean Wagstaff reviews MotionBuilder 6, which remains unmatched at manipulating, re-using and blending animation data from multiple sources, and creating character performances from scratch.
For Steven Dovas
During the 2004 Ottawa Festival we had a panel devised by Steve Dovas about the state of criticism in animation. In my guise as the Animation Pimp I was asked to be a part of the panel with Rita Street, Richard OConnor, Amid Amidi and Mikhail Gurevich.
I think there was some anticipation that the Pimp would let go, unleash his venom LIVE. Maybe I thought that too. Instead I sat there with nothing to say. Now okay, part of this was because I was exhausted from being right smack in the fact of the festival itself. I couldnt process much to get saucy about on two weeks worth of a few hours sleep. But in truth, I was silent because I really didnt have much to say. As I heard the others talking about this and that technique and industry, and their critical strategies etc. I realized that I really didnt give a hoot, that I wasnt an animation critic or a historian nor did I ever want to be one. I knew this before and in fact I never sold myself as either. Ive always been an outsider in animation (yes okay I realize that I do have a bit of power as the as Plympton the fact that I can say refer to willie billie so casually is PROOF that Ive got a stake in this campground once deemed me the tastemaker of the Ottawa festival) and what youve read over the years have just been observations about many different things made by someone who stumbled into this animation tent. I never saw myself as a permanent resident, just someone passing through. I mean... isnt that life in itself? I just picked things that I thought were interesting and in particular how these people, ideas or whatever they might have been, affected me as a person. And that was the key. You never really lose sight of the observer. And in that sense, you not only see this world of animation through the Pimps eyes, but you are also seeing the essence of the person behind the Pimp.
The tales say as much about me as they do about the tent. And it wasnt just about what animation brought to me directly it was never direct animation came to me filtered by the world Id experienced before and around the tent. So it was never about criticism or history, just a philosophical jaunt.
Nick and Dick
Even that approach is nothing even close to being unique. My own introduction to that personal gonzo style came through the 1970s and 80s writings of Nick Tosches and Richard Meltzer. So much of the free form style that has dominated Pimp columns comes from Meltzers influence. When he was a full on rock writer in the 1970s. He reviewed records he never listened too, concerts he wasnt at. His work was dense, playful, self-centered and almost always funny. For whatever reason, one review (Real Time, Real Demons: Bouncing with Bud 64) always stayed with me. Inside a Bud Powell CD review was a story Meltzers first completely sexual relationship. For Meltzer the critic wasnt some objective, impartial deadbeat who just stood atop a mountain telling the readers what he saw. He was down in the muck with them.
Heres a link to an Opera review called Fuck My Childhood http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/ungodlyvision/AtN/fmchildhood.htm
Now Tosches holy fuck what can I fucking say about my first fucking encounter with grandmaster Saint Nick. Hed written a book about Dean Martin called Dino. I didnt really know or care much about Dean Martin at the time but some prof at school had suggested it. It just blew me away it was profound and profane. Id never seen the word fuck used so poetically. I mean one minute Tosches would be calling Jerry Lewis a cocksucker and then hed be referencing Dante and pre-Greek philosophers and it all made sense somehow:
Beyond that there were passages of pure fiction where Tosches clearly made up dialogue and internal thoughts attributed to Dean Martin. It was the MOMENT for me the moment when my writing and views took the stick out of their ass (or at least partially out of my ass). In the end, Tosches hyperbole and references ultimately told us more about the essence, the core of who Dean Martin was (not to mention, Nick Tosches) then any straightforward authorized biography ever could.
And in both cases, these guys were interested as much in ideas as people. Tosches always placed his subjects in the larger context of the world they lived in. They werent treating like people who lived above or around us, uncontaminated by society. In Tosches cases, he was interested in dark, unsung figures (Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, Emmitt Miller, Sonny Liston). Meltzers work was more self-centered (and I dont mean that in a bad sense). When he writes about music or writers or whatever, its first and foremost about how they fit or interact with his own life.
When I started writing about animation I wrote formally, from a distance. Check out anything I wrote before say spring 2000 and its real, straight-laced routine stuff. It reads okay, but you can see the stick moving around in my ass trying to get loose.
And I remember that it was while writing about Priit Pärn and, get this, Chris Landreths Ryan for example. I keep reading all sorts of stuff about the innovative technology, but nothing about WHAT the film is about other than the standard claptrap about Larkins life.
This has been a problem in general. There is never any critical dialogue about a film. If its bad, no one talks about it. If its great, we all say, Hey, that was great If we dont understand it, we resort to It looked real beautiful nice brush strokes and textures and all that assorted horseshit thats more in the realm of the wine connoisseur. Bottom line, I just never felt moved or motivated by anything I read about animation.
It was either fan-clubby historical approach (Barrier and Beck and I am NOT dissing those guys for a minute. I may not dig their style, but they are passionate about what theyre doing.) polished, technique driven (Canemaker again I may not click with Canemakers writing style, but I admire the beans out of the man for continually seeking to give a voice to all those unacknowledged, unsung studio artists. Canemakers like a cartoon homicide cop) or dense, academic and coded (sort of an inversion of the fan-clubby approach); speaking to only those already resting atop the ivory tower.
In the end, when I couldnt find any likeminded writers I said fuggit, and contacted Meltzer directly and just invited him to write. I figured that even though he had no animation experience, he had enough life and writing experience to easily be able to write about animation. I was right. (Im still surprised that Richard even answered my email and agreed to write for the Ottawa festival).
The situation is starting to change a little (thanks to the Internet and the availability of more work). I admire the heck out of Amid Amidi for singing with such commitment, intensity and passion. Now if hed only stop drooling over all things designiest so much! Dr. Toon has always been a fave of mine even though he talks about mainstream U.S. animation too much because he looks at tendencies, trends all in a historical light. And I am REALLY excited to read Chris Panzners work. As his recent pieces on AWN show, he brings a gonzo sensibility to otherwise dull (for me) industry issues. Panzer shows that hes not afraid to speak frankly about anyone or anything. And I think animation has always needed that.
What frustrates me the most though is the unwillingness of many of these people (above and beyond) to talk about NON-Hollywood films. We just keep seeing the same stuff being written about the same people and studios. Anyone who stepped into this tent would think that animation is ONLY Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, AMERICAN. Its like listening to some generic FM station that plays the same 50 fucking songs from the same 20 fucking bands. We need more writers to actively engage and champion those unsung films and animators.
That said I dont feel the anger I once did toward writers like Barrier and company. They write about what interests them just as I do. How can I piss on them for that? I might think shit Beck cant you take a gander out the window and see whats going on down the block but the same can be said of my own views. I even sometimes envy these guys for their passion and wish I could get all stoked about a Woody Woodpecker or Felix the Cat cartoon.
As for me Im just trying my best to articulate what I see around me. Ive written about animators I felt a connection with whose work whose life might help me unlock some mystery inside me.
My words are just a reflection of a life (faults and all) in process. Thats it and yet thats all.
Chris Robinson is little more than a man. In his spare time he cares for the elderly. www.animationpimp.com.