Monday, December 30, 2013

Like Walking and Chewing Gum...

Hello again!
Now don't ya'll go thinkin' that simply because I haven't updated this here blog, I haven't drawn a lick - cuz WHOA, have I! (I don't really know why I decided to open with a panning-for-gold yee-haw accent. It just came to me, but I think I'll stop).

I have had the most incredible 12 weeks, learning and drawing more than perhaps I ever have, and certainly having the most fun possible. In a very tiny nutshell, the sort of lightning-bolt inspired decision to go all out in pursuing the one thing I always wanted to do has opened into the most validating, rewarding, fulfilling, welcoming, reassuring, and ridiculously enjoyable experience - more than I could have imagined. I made the decision with a very specific goal in mind, but in working toward that goal I have become overwhelmed by the gratification of the journey. And this is all after just the very first step.
The first step being the 12 week class I just completed at the Animation Collaborative, a wonderful little place across the street from the glowing gates of Pixar Animation Studios. The school, opened in 2011, was founded by Pixar veterans Andrew Gordon and Michal Makarewicz to provide quality supplemental and specified education in the field of animation. I'd have never known this unassuming and unmarked gem existed without the serendipitous recommendation of Daniela Strijleva. Specifically, the very class she suggest I take: Character Design with Chris Sasaki.

When I looked into the class and took a few deep breaths to digest the $2k tuition fee, I saw that Chris's class was an advanced class and a portfolio review was required for entrance. OK, so now I was looking at a $4k educational experience starting with the beginning character design course. But it was going to be OK. I would submit my portfolio for the hell of it, pick up more shifts than I could work, and eventually make my way into Chris's class....
THANK the glorious universe my portfolio SOMEHOW passed. I'd like to think it was based on skill, but to be honest at this point, I don't care if they simply needed a warm body to fill the chair. I was now a part of what would be the greatest class in the universe. The education I received is near indescribable. Hopefully it will simply be evident in my work. But the class...

The ten people I shared twelve Thursday nights with...I wouldn't know where to start in describing that dynamic. Some, I know, will be lifelong friends. I hope they all will. But what I learned from each one of them - how they all came through with INCREDIBLE surprises and unlocked talents! We all had the unusual commonality of fully exposed exhaustion and emotion. A good exhaustion - the kind of "that's IT! I'm exhausted by my current existence and am going to muster every ounce of bravery I have and DO THIS THING!" kind of motivating exhaustion. This is also the sort of position in life that makes one vulnerable. And when one is vulnerable and walking into the unknown and sees ten other people there, anything can happen. One could clam up and shut down, for instance. could bring banana bread. I have come to realize that baked goods serve as one of the greatest bridges to the unknown. They are like an introductory hug without the invasive creepiness.
The banana bread by no means created the warm and supportive love-fest-to-be. But I do think that it's impossible NOT to let your guard down when you are attempting to politely mash gooey banana bread through your teeth. And I think vulnerability inevitably taps in and grabs onto the first sign of coziness. Needless to say, I was gratified to see that no one was too shy or too cool (or too allergic - I did make a gluten-free loaf so there would be no excuses) to take a slice. I decided at that moment I would bring something delicious to every class. Mostly because I have a tendency to tear up at the drop of a hat and spill "I love you guys"'s all over the place like a mascara-smeared girl during last call. Cake was a good way to say "I love you guys"...without all the invasive creepiness.

Anywho, I could go on and on about the amazingness of the experience or about the serendipity of how our work as a class will be showcased in a museum in NEW YORK among other things, but from here, I'll simply show the work and the process - from beginning to end.
As I post the work, I'll also be building my portfolio, so PLEASE feel free to provide comments and/or suggestions about what to include and how to include it! So here it goes....

WEEKS 1&2:
I'm grouping the first two weeks because they were solely research - no drawing. The way Chris teaches this class is sort of an abbreviated version of the character design process at Pixar. The beginning of any process is research. I was incredibly excited and validated to learn this - that it wasn't all about shape or design - because this is how I've worked my whole life.
I recall specifically as a kid at Christmastime drawing a scene of a living room. In it, I had decided the family had all just gone to bed, the fire was dwindling, and Santa was expected to arrive. I spent HOURS looking through my mom's Betty Crocker cookbook trying to decide which cookies they had left for Santa. It was snowing through the windows outside, so they lived some place with snow. Sweden? Well, that changes everything. What kind of cookies do they make in Sweden?.... I always thought I was just a weird kid who had drawing OCD. Turns out I'm just built for feature animation! Whew!
We were given Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as our story, which we would be using for the duration of the course. We were assigned two characters from the story - Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman - to conceptualize and eventually design. Chris's choice in assigning these 2 characters became increasingly interesting and intentionally challenging, which I'll explain later.
For now, the images below include just a taste of what was used for my research in creating a feeling, both in Sleepy Hollow itself and in the characters as well as some initial research sketches.

Beginning sketches:

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