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Wishing I Could Split in Two

Day 2 of Red Stick, and the multiple events begin. Oh for the power of Dr. Manhattan to split myself up into several Joes so as to cover everything, but all I can manage is to run to and fro, capturing a taste of this and that.

Red Stick brings animation vets to Baton Rouge - (l-r)  Scott Johnston, Stuart Sumida, Doeri Welch-Greiner and Rachelle Lewis.

written by Joe Strike

Day 2 of Red Stick, and the multiple events begin. Oh for the power of Dr. Manhattan to split myself up into several Joes so as to cover everything, but all I can manage is to run to and fro, capturing a taste of this and that.

In an upstairs classroom at the Shaw Center Chris Williams and Dougy Pincott are handing out modeling clay to middle school students who are about to learn the rudiments of stop motion animation. Chris and Dougy are visitors from Animex, Red Stick’s partner festival in Middlesbrough England. “We’re similar towns,” Dougy explains, “we’re both post-industrial and regenerating ourselves” through a focus on digital technology and animation. He adds that their town also features a bridge running across a major river, like the one carry I-10 across the Mississippi just south of the Shaw Center.

More...Heather Kenyon gives the animation devoted a bible lesson.

Heather Kenyon’s bible clinic is well attended, as the AWN and Cartoon Network alum provides a PowerPoint primer into the mysteries of assembling a book that will help you sell your show to a skeptical executive. Her impression of a clueless would-be producer going on an endless discursive ramble is pitch-perfect, in all likelihood honed from hearing variations of it dozens of times. “People bring in their pet Chihuahua, or play their ukulele. One time an animation ‘Manly Man’ [she leaves unnamed] insisted on singing a romantic song” as part of his movie pitch.

A session on “The Future of the Content Market.” One panelist (you come in late, you miss the introductions) refers to a cable channel as “linear,” as opposed to non-linear, pick-&-choose online sites like YouTube and Hulu. Another notes her 22 year old stepdaughter isn’t just a multi-tasker but a “mega-tasker.” Tina Satomaro (I got her card at a session yesterday) advises that character development and story arcs don’t play online, where people are looking for a quick, free-standing entertainment zap.

Gerald's Last Day tugs at the heartstrings.

The first program of entries in the Student Film Competition takes place across the street at the Louisiana Arts & Sciences Planetarium auditorium. The room’s already dark when I arrive, but there’s no mistaking the presence of a reasonably sized crowd – perhaps 50-60 people, as opposed to the smaller turn-outs (perhaps 20-30 people) for the sessions at the Shaw Center’s Manship Auditorium. The films are mostly cgi, with some nice moments of performance, lighting and effects animation. My favorite of the bunch is cOcO nut, starring two characters who look like aboriginal drawings come to life, battling over the biggest coconut on their tropical island. I’m also impressed by Gerald’s Last Day, a stop-motion Chaplin-esque tearjerker about a pound-imprisoned bulldog scheduled to be put to sleep at 5 o’clock if he’s not adopted beforehand. (I’m told the extended freeze-frame happy ending was a technical glitch and not a lead-up to an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge-type surprise.)  There’ll be several other screenings of competition entries (Stephen Beck, the festival’s host at the LSU Computational Center says a record 450 films were entered this year) but it looks like I won’t be able to attend them.

At lunch Stephen and Clint Ourso of the Illinois-based game design company ‘volition’ discuss video game platforms. Who knew the Wii doesn’t have enough computational power to support photorealistic games? (They did, not me.) Turns out its better at low res arcade games and its charm is in its simple interface, the one you wave around in your living room to play tennis on your TV screen.

Rachelle Lewis hosts a killer session: Hooray for Hollywood: Getting a Job in Animation. The secret: figure out what you’re good at and become very good at it, whether it’s modeling, rigging, lighting or personality animation. No talk of monetizing content here; instead Rachelle offers nuts-and-bolts advice and screens way-impressive student films that won their creators early entré into the business. She advises the attendees to study Thomas and Johnston’ The Illusion of Life (“carry it with you at all times”), find yourself a mentor, and oh yeah, “it’s very difficult to get a job right now.” Becoming a conceptual artist for an animation studio? “It’s the cherry on top of the cupcake on the yacht in the harbor.”

Stuart Sumida gives his presentation to an intimate crowd.

Speaking of small turnouts, why are there only seven people attending Stuart Sumida’s session on animal anatomy? Are the rest of the aspiring animators at the Festival crazy or just lazy? This guy has been an advisor on almost every animal-centric Disney film from The Lion King through Ratatouille and they’re missing out a million dollar opportunity to learn from a master. (Did you know that 70% of a four-legged mammal’s propulsion comes from its hind legs? Now I do.)

Doeri Welch-Greiner lays out what is needed for a killer portfolio.

It’s the same at Doeri Welch-Greiner’s Disney portfolio review: a mere five people gather to hear Doeri’s advice on assembling a killer portfolio. (Make sure to include a range of art styles and characters conveying emotions – and you might be in trouble if you can’t come up with “orthographic” drawings of how a character will look from a variety of angles.)

Deborah Todd lectures on story and character development, and how to make your characters more than stereotypes. (New age guru Deepak Chopra, motivational speaker Anthony Robbins and horoscope books were suggested as sources for ideas on infusing characters with specific personalities.)

Burnt out reading all this? Imagine how I felt spending all day running to one session after another. It was time to rest up at an umbrella-covered table at the Shaw Center’s outdoor café and gossip with some of those folks who needed a break too.

Finally got back to my hotel room to type this up & send it to AWN. An Email – sent out at 7:23 pm – is waiting with some interesting news not in the Red Stick program book:

Disney’s upcoming feature film, The Princess and the Frog, takes place in Louisiana, and audiences in the state’s capital will be among the first in the world to get a sneak preview as part of the Red Stick International Animation Festival on Friday, April 24, at 5:30 p.m. in the Manship Theatre.