Baby elephants pretty much rock my world any day. But flaunting this little guy’s awesomeness is especially appropriate on Earth Day.
His Singing in the Rain soft-shoe has the entire jungle in awe. So it’s not just me. I’m sure Gene Kelly would be feeling the envy. And with that trunk, he’d probably put Sinatra’s crooning to shame too.
I used to believe that I had do everything on my own. If I didn’t, then I couldn’t take credit for the results. Luckily, I met someone who clued me in on an insider secret of the successful:
If you want to be successful at anything, apprentice yourself to someone who’s mastered the art.
Kind of like Yoda, the little green guy from Stars Wars with the pointy ears. Without Yoda mentoring him, Luke Skywalker never would’ve become a Jedi.
I’ll be straight up honest. I didn’t go looking for a mentor. I kinda sorta just bumped into him. By accident. It was one of those serendipitous meetings that changed your life. I wish I could say that over a few short months I became a shining success in my area of study. But that would be a flat out lie.
The reality took a whole lot longer, and turned out to be better than anything I ever could have imagined. At the time, I wanted to become a computer animator—back when the industry was in its infancy. Along the way, I discovered my passion for writing for young people. Sometimes the wrong path brings you to the right place. And it was my mentor who paved the way for that transition through the (snail mail) letters we exchanged over the years.
The magic of the written word ~ Letters from Frank
I met my mentor, Frank Thomas, in 1983 at a glitzy computer graphics symposium at UCLA. I wandered up to the tradeshow area after one of the panel discussions, and ended up standing next to an old man. I overheard him telling the young woman demonstrating one product that he’d worked at Walt Disney Studios as an animator. He looked pretty old (ancient to a twenty-something-year-old), so I asked, “Did you know Walt?”
“Yes,” he replied. “If he were alive today this is where he’d be”
Me, to myself: You’re my new best friend.
At the time, I didn’t know that Frank Thomas had joined The Walt Disney Company in 1934 as employee number 224. Or that he had animated dozens of animated features and shorts, including The Brave Little Taylor, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, to name a few. I knew he worked with Walt, and that was good enough for me. Our 21 year conversation started with a single handwritten letter that I sent to Frank, care of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.
Over the years, I continued to pursue computer animation, and worked on projects with Silicon Graphics and Dreamworks. Through it all, I exchanged letters with Frank, and came to meet his lovely, and amazing wife Jeanette. In a sense, they became like family.
Frank was generous in his letters with his expertise in traditional animation, as well as what he was learning about applying that knowledge to new technology. But it was the “storytelling style” of Frank’s letters that made the biggest impact on me. Early on, I realized I couldn’t write just anything in a letter to him. I had to write a story. I worked to make my letters as entertaining as the ones Frank always sent. He was teaching me about story structure and humor, without realizing it.
Tips on stalking a mentor
If you think “a successful person would never want to help me”, you’re wrong. Not everyone may be as accommodating as Frank Thomas, but if you have a genuine passion for their field and show an enthusiasm for learning, your mentor-of-choice will most likely take you under their wing.
FACT: People like to talk about their passion with others who share their enthusiasm.
Here are a few guidelines you might want to follow:
Call to ask for an “informational interview”. This works especially well for high school and college students.
Or, write a letter (yes, on paper) stating your purpose and why you chose them a your hero. You can include an email address as a convenience for a return reply.
Always be polite and courteous of their time.
Be professional (in accordance with industry standards) in dress and speech.
If they do meet with you, follow-up with a thank you letter (on paper) expressing an appreciation for their time.
If you want to continue working with a mentor, always bring something of interest, such as information about the industry they might not know. Anything that *shows them* you are actively working toward attaining your goal.
I admit it. I’m an animation geek. And I’m particularly geeky when it comes to Walt Disney feature-length animated films that were produced when Walt Disney was alive. So you can understand why I was shocked to hear that some young people today think “Walt Disney” is a made up brand name. Like Captain Crunch, or something.
Diane Disney Miller, the daughter of Walt and Lillian Disney, was shocked too. So much so, she and her family went to an enormous effort (and a heck of a lot of expense) to preserve the history and imagination of her father’s legacy by founding The Walt Disney Family Museum.
It took seven years of planning, designing, and construction before the museum opened in San Francisco’s Presidio on October 1, 2009. [photo by moi]
The moment you step inside the first interactive gallery, you are walking in Walt’s footsteps, with his voice narrating his story. The journey starts with Walt’s ancestors immigrating to America, and shows you their humble beginnings on a farm in Missouri. From there you join Walt’s adventures selling papers, working on a train, enlisting in the army as an ambulance driver, cartooning, and creating his first animated films.
Not all of his early endeavors paid off. After a bankruptcy and losing the rights to his first animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt was on a train when he got the idea for Mickey Mouse. When you step into the elevator to go up the second floor of the museum, you step onto that train car with Walt, as he tells you the story.
When you get off the car, you’re in Hollywood!
As you walk through the galleries, you witness the development of a new animated art form, and the plethora of products and technologies that followed. The men who worked with Walt share their stories at the touch of a finger, on interactive consoles throughout the galleries. It’s amazing that one man could assemble such talented teams — artists and engineers — and inspire their genius to create all that they did.
I could ramble on and on about the live-action films, nature documentaries, audio animatronics, and other technologies Walt Disney inspired. And don’t even get me started on Disneyland. But that would be boring. It’s much more fun if you sneak a peek at the Interactive Galleries on the Walt Disney Family Museum website! And while you’re over there, check out the Special Exhibitions, Classes and Workshops, and Special Programs for the whole family.
I was having a cup of coffee in the museum cafe after my last visit, when I overheard a teenager at the next table talking on her cell phone…
I just walked through Walt Disney’s life, and it was so cool!
That simple statement — made by someone who wasn’t alive during Walt Disney’s lifetime — proves the timelessness of Disney magic. Forty-seven years after his death, Walt is still creating magic … for young and old alike.
In the following video Diane Disney Miller announces the museum’s opening on October 1, 2009.
Preview of the Walt Disney Family Museum on CBS
If you’re planning on visiting the museum, be sure to check the Walt Disney Family Museum web site for Hours, Location, and Directions. There’s ample parking directly across from the museum too!
This past year was a whirl wind of firsts, including a new job and blogging for the first time ever. I also started the final revision of my Work In Progress (WIP) — a Young Adult (YA) supernatural mystery. All good. It’s been terrific, really.
But… there was an itsy-bitsy snag in the midst of the newness. With all the new shiny things in my life, progress on my WIP revisions slowed to a negligible crawl. Which is why come November, when everyone else was NaNoWriMoing, I lead a NaNoRevMo Charge on revisions for my WIP.
It was great tapping into the NaNo synergy. I got back in the groove, and the revisions were going well.
And then … life happened. What’s that they say about “making plans is the best way to make the universe laugh. In your face.”? Well, the universe was rolling around on the floor laughing at me…
Because it played out something like this…
Well… ALMOST… I won’t bore you with the deets, but here’s the general rundown:
I had to trap and relocate an entire colony of feral cats, when the property where I’d been feeding them went up for sale. No small task, and especially stressful since I’d cared for these cats every day for more than 9 years.
All the while, I had to keep on top of deadlines at the day-job. Nothing new there. But trapping the colony of feral cats in my spare time left no bandwidth for revisions. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
To top that all off, a killer cold knocked me flat and bronchitis shoved me head first into the proverbial snow bank. Luckily, after the cats made it to their new home. Deadlines at the day-job still had to be met, and I got the job done! But progress on the revisions? None what so ever.
Finally… I started feeling better. And now…
I’m back in the groove & skating on through…
I’ve sailed well past the half-way mark of the WIP revisions, and can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yay, me! Since I’m driven by deadlines, real or self-imposed, to keep the momentum going I drew a deadline for final completion on the calendar. Then I started realigning priorities. I’m confident I’ll be able reach the finish line in a relatively short time. But that means … something’s gotta give.
Sadly, this blog has to go dark … for awhile
Only for a few weeks folks… And that’s not to say I won’t post a funny video somewhere along the line. *wink, wink* Just no substantial content, as I need to focus my full attention on my WIP revisions … for now.
I’ll be back after the revision break. Promise!
I have a great series of posts planned for the coming year. But before I can dig into writing those awesome articles, I have to finish this WIP, so I can hop on the Literary Agent Submission Train.
I’ll see you all in a few weeks on the other side of the deadline! I’ll miss you guys, but this Revision Interlude will pass before we know it! [Image credit: Wikipedia]
Good animation is based on good storytelling, conveying thoughts, feelings, and emotions by showing rather than telling. One of the principle ways of defining character in animation is “the walk”.
It’s All About the Walk
In animation, “the walk” of a character is everything. That’s because a simple walk isn’t … well … simple. Visually, it is one of the most defining parts of a character. A walk reveals personality and telegraphs mood. You can tell how someone feels by the way they carry themselves, move their arms, and by the quickness or slowness of their step.
Ichabod Crane, in Walt Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Walking With Emotion
In short, a walk conveys character and emotion without saying a word, for example:
Depressed, discouraged: Head down, shoulders slumped, hands in pockets, slow steps, dragging their feet
Happy, elated: Head high, shoulders back, arms swinging, bouncy steps
Angry, determined: Leaning forward, chin jutting out, brisk pace
In love: Ambling stroll, relaxed, distracted gaze, blissful smile
A great way to internalize a character’s mood is to imitate their walk. The old saying “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is too true. Which is why mimicking character movements is a common practice for animators. They physically act out scenes as their character, to study action and emotion.
Show ideas or thoughts, with the attitudes and actions.
Let the body attitude echo the facial expression.
Show what your character is thinking.
The thought and circumstances behind the action are what make the action interesting. Here’s an example: A man walks up to a mailbox, drops in his letter and walks away. … OR … A man desperately in love with a girl far away rushes to the mailbox, then carefully drops the letter, into which he has poured his heart out, into the mailbox with a sigh.
Theory is all well and good, but I’m one of those people who need examples in order to learn. The following two clips show the walks of two opposite-poles characters, Ichabod Crane and Pinocchio. See how much of their characters you can discern just from studying how they walk.
Ichabod Crane in Walt Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”… Ichabod has a walk like no other. It’s one of the most distinctive walks in Disney animation, thanks to legendary animator Frank Thomas. I’d apologize for the “White and Nerdy” song this is set to, if it weren’t so fitting for the character!
Then there’s Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio”… You couldn’t find a more different character from ol’ Ichabod, and it’s immediately apparent from Pinocchio’s walk. There’s no music, but something “Short and Bouncy” would have been fun.
What do you notice most about the way someone walks?
I wish I could take credit for the cartoon laws of physics, but I can’t. This list was originally known as “O’Donnell’s Laws of Cartoon Motion”, published in Esquire, June 1980. It’s been circling the internet ever since, proving the previously unwritten (at least until now) law: A laugh that goes around, stays around.
10 Immutable Laws of Cartoon Motion
Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.
Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly.
Any body passing through solid (or less than solid) matter leaves a perforation conforming to its perimeter. The threat of skunks or matrimony often catalyzes this reaction. Though, falling from extreme heights also works.
The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights to attempt to capture it unbroken.
All principles of gravity are negated by fear.
As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once.
Certain bodies can pass through solid walls painted to resemble tunnel entrances; others cannot. Especially the one who painted the entrance (read Wile E. Coyote) to trick an opponent (read Roadrunner).
Any violent rearrangement of feline matter is impermanent. Cartoon cats can be decimated, spliced, splayed, accordion-pleated, spindled, or disassembled, but they cannot be destroyed. Ever.
Everything falls faster than an anvil.
For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite revengeance.
That’s Not All Folks … See The Laws in Action!
I wasn’t able to find one cartoon that demonstrated all 10 Laws of Cartoon Physics. However, you can enjoy watching most of them in action in the following Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner shorts.
A misunderstood boy, takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.
OK. I admit that logline sounds like a dozen other stories in both film and fiction. But I assure you. ParaNorman it’s not normal, in any sense of the word.
I may not be a zombie aficionado, but from what I’ve seen and read, most zombie stories aren’t “delightful”. Which is how one writer friend described ParaNorman. And I totally agree.
Most zombie stories aren’t meaningful in a heartfelt way either. ParaNorman most certainly is, with a dash of macabre for spice. Add a little Joss Whedonesque humor. Toss. Let rest for five minutes before serving. And voila! A Zombie Comedy with heart.
Yes, a Zombie Comedy, or ZomCom. A new genre. Now that’s what I call pushing the envelope!
Five delightful things about ParaNorman:
A sympathetic hero with a HUGe problem: No one understands Norman, except the ghosts he sees (that no one else does). And it’s his special talent that makes him next one in line to prevent the dead from rising when his uncle dies suddenly, before telling Norman how to save the town.
Quirky sidekicks: Gotta love ’em, especially the ones in ParaNorman.
A surprising plot twist or two: No spoilers. But the twists add depth to the story. They’re not just for shock value.
Get dark, get gruesome, then get funny:Joss Whedon we love you for setting this precedent.
It means something: Again, spoiler free. Let’s just say that the theme is acceptance and forgiveness. When was the last time you felt all warm and fuzzy after watching a horror film? ParaNorman was a first for me!
Zombie Aficionados Speak Out!
What’s your favorite zombie story … film or fiction?
Because Fridays are always better with a Happy Dance!
Or … maybe … because my previous post on Animated Storytelling is the perfect excuse set up for posting a dance sequence that ALWAYS makes me laugh ... The dancing penguins sequence from Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins”!
I especially love the penguin who toboggans off-screen, and then – try as he might – can never get back in sync with the group. I think that’s because I frequently feel like I’ve gone barreling off the map and am forever out of step with everyone else!
I came to writing fiction through animation. Yep, I’m an animation geek, and proud of it! And as circuitous as my journey might sound … it’s not.
Good animation tells a story by showing emotion, the same as fiction. This image of Thumper (from Walt Disney’s “Bambi”) is a perfect example. You can tell Thumper’s been reprimanded by his slumped posture, his paws held behind his back, his ears laid back, and his head tilted downward.
Likewise, in this next image (also from Bambi) it’s obvious the two skunks are infatuated with each other by their posture, how they hold their hands and look at one another. Good storytelling immerses you in the lives of the characters, so that you feel what they are feeling.
Writing fiction is not the same medium as animation (duh!), so the techniques a writer must use to immerse an audience are slightly different from the keys to invoking emotion in animation. But not so different. Really. I ask myself the following questions when I begin a scene. These questions are surprisingly similar to the questions an animator must resolve when animating a scene:
What is the character thinking, and why?
What is the character feeling, and why?
How does the character express their feelings, and how does that vary with the different people in the scene?
What is the arc of the character’s reaction to the circumstances?
What are the character’s strengths and faults, and how do they manifest as a result of the circumstances?
When I understand what’s motivating a character and why, I can figure out how the character will react and what their feeling. I keep a copy of the Emotion Thesaurus handy to prevent myself from using worn out descriptions, or reusing the same ones over and over.
The Bella Note “Spaghetti Scene” in Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp is probably the best-loved scene in animation of all time. It became famous, because we relate to the characters’ feelings (even though they’re dogs). We feel their love for each other through their nuanced looks, expressions, and gestures. Magical storytelling in action! You can watch this remarkable scene here.