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Red Stick 09: F is for Friday Field Trip

Friday is field trip day at the Red Stick Festival – It seems as if half of Baton Rouge’s school population has been bussed in to take part in the festivities.

Hans RijpkemaFriday is field trip day at the Red Stick Festival – It seems as if half of Baton Rouge’s school population has been bussed in to take part in the festivities. I share an elevator With Walt Santucci of Duck Studios, on his way to lead an all-day animation workshop with the local school kids. I bump into him again at days’ end; his group produced some 9 anti-global warming PSA’s, with some of the best work done, he says, by kids with no previous animation experience. If you teach them too much at once they start worrying if they’re doing it right or not…

I head down the hill to the Louisiana Art & Science Museum (aka LASM) auditorium where Rhythm & Hues’ Hans Rijpkema is waiting for a few field trippin’ classes to arrive so he can begin his session on how R&H built last year’s bigger, better, hulkier Incredible Hulk. We see the test clip the studio produced to snag the assignment (it goes on for a while as Hulkie smashes his way thru an office skyscraper), low-rez motion & anatomy tests, live-action video reference of the R&H animators grunting and snarling, and their after-houses goofball reel, starring a two-legged moose wearing a Speedo, the Hulk making funny faces and exploding into a half-dozen mini-Hulks, a quick glimpse of Cheney that draws boos from the crowd and Wilbur the pig transforming into a package of Oscar Meyer bacon. More...Illusion of Life has taught a many an animator.I meet Disney’s Doeri Welch-Greiner, hiding out in the Shaw Center intern’s lounge, editing down her next presentation to fit inside an hour’s time slot. The subject of Thomas & Johnston’s Illusion of Life pops up again, and Doeri talks about how Prince Naveen’s (from the upcoming Princess and the Frog) animator taught himself out of said book, not to mention the fellow from Brazil who did the same and in spite of knowing no English, showed up at the front door of Don Bluth’s Ireland studio and got himself a job.

Across the street in the ornate Old State Capitol Building (a fanciful structure perfect for that evening’s ‘Princess Ball’ – make sure your tiara’s on straight, girls!) Stuart Sumida offers a kid-friendly anatomy lesson on the topic of What Makes for Cute. Somebody give this man a cough drop! He’s growing hoarser by the second as he explains it’s all in head-to-body proportions and jaw-to-head ratios. He reveals his favorite Disney scene is when Tarzan realizes he’s been adopted (thanks to the difference in finger length between his and his mother ape’s hand) – “I freaking cry when I see this scene.”

Back at the LASM, Marlon West (P&F’s effects supervisor) is recapping a career path that led him to Disney. (Seems that animating nasal hairs for Encyclopedia Britannica was the perfect training for becoming an effects animator.) Rachelle Lewis takes over, sternly shushing a yakky crowd (“shut up or leave!”) to show a series of outstanding student reels that earned their creators industry employment. “7200 people applied for [a Disney] job and I had to watch all their reels – that’s why martinis are my friend.” Her final words of warning: “anything worth doing is hard.”

The disembodied voice of Blue Sky animator Jason Sadler (a sudden family emergency kept him home) fills the Shaw auditorium, narrating the slides onscreen tracing the conceptual and development art behind their Horton Hears a Who adaptation to the biggest crowd I’ve seen at the festival so far. The best photo reference for Horton’s elephantine wrinkles: chubby babies with overlapping rings of body fat. In a fascinating scientific tidbit, too long to go into detail here, Sadler explains how the visual impact of an endless, hot pink field of flowers was enhanced via ‘successive contrast.’ (

Technical whiz Scott Johnston surveys the use of three-dimensional objects and backgrounds in 2D animation, including those that preceded CGI (Cruella DeVille’s Rolls Royce in 101 Dalmations – a high-contrast miniature photographed and Xeroxed onto cels for painting) or clever use of distorted perspective going back to Pinocchio.

Bolt redesigned anatomy might have trouble walking let alone running.

Sumida returns, his voice all but gone as he outlines ‘The Biology of Bolt.’ The animal’s original, full-sized look would not have sold many plush toys, but a real-life dog with Bolt’s cuter look and redesigned anatomy might have trouble walking. (“His limbs are so short his knees would bang into his elbows.”) Sumida, a real-life biology professor who’s served as advisor to any number of animated features admits that thanks to his sideline “I get to hang out with incredibly cool people.” (Kinda like me, but don’t tell anybody.) By the way, the secret of giving animals human expressions: “it’s all in the eyebrows,” even when the real-life animal doesn’t have any).

Marlon West is back with the goodie we’ve been waiting all day for: story sketches, animation tests and a few finished shots from The Princess and the Frog. The transformed Prince Naveen, now a frog but still quite impressed with himself, kisses Prince Tiana with unfortunate results. (Fans of cool movie transformation scenes will be disappointed that neither metamorphosis takes place on camera.) A Bolt screening is supposed to follow the P&F preview, but first a bunch of plushie Bolts are tossed into the audience. (I had to elbow a grandma out of the way to snag mine.) I had intended to stay for the action sequence that begins the movie, but whoever was running the PlayStation was having a bit of trouble; for all I know he’s still in the Manship Theater scrolling through the machine’s endless menus and submenus in search of the blu-ray ‘play’ button…