Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mote Marine Laboratory

I recently had the amazing privilege of meeting up with my friend, Jodi Kendall, to go behind the scenes at Mote Marine Laboratory on Longboat Key, which is a little island off the coast of Sarasota. I met Jodi several years ago at the Society of Children's Books Writers & Illustrators conference in LA. She is a writer and has worked for many prestigious clients, including National Geographic.

I learned a lot of things on our excursion through the laboratory. We were escorted through a turtle rehabilitation center to see how injured turtles are cared for (we got to pet a turtle which is never allowed normally), learned about a tracking device called an accelerometer, which records movements similarly to how an iphone will rotate screen orientation when it's turned, and we also spoke with the dolphin trainers. They introduced us to Harley and Moonshine, two spinner dolphins that are really quite amazing:

And FINALLY I got to meet a Manatee!

I took a lot of pictures and decided to paint some of my sketches. Here's a look at the marine life I saw that day. The ocean is full of wonder!

God Bless America, My Home Sweet Home

I can't believe it's been 10 years since the September 11th attacks.
Right now as I write this, I'm watching live coverage of the memorial service. They are announcing all the names of each person that died that day. Each name being said was a life, a soul. It's hard to fathom.

I was living in California in 2001, so when the first plane crashed into the tower at 8:46am, I was asleep. My roommate at the time burst into the room and said, "Wake up! Come watch the news! We're under attack!" The images on screen were unbelievable. I'll never forget it. Today I was able to watch a small tribute parade on main street here in Sarasota, FL, and I wanted to take a further moment to remember that day.

In February 2006, I was in New York City and had the opportunity to pay my respects at Ground Zero. I know that my mind cannot grasp the magnitude of the tragedy, but seeing the site helped in trying to understand the historical and emotional impact that forever changed America.

Above is a snapshot of Ground Zero - the square acre-sized hole that remained after. I had to shoot this picture through a chain link fence, but now they have built a lovely waterfall fountain memorial. I love the design because the gaping crater is still there to remind us of what happened, but the water represents spirit, life, reflections, memories. See the Memorial here.

Below are a few other snapshots from my trip to NY in 2006. 

This is me in front of the Metropolitan Museum. New York, what an awesome place!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dreamworks' Steve Hickner at RCAD

This weekend at Ringling College was a big deal for senior computer animation students - they were having their final project short films critiqued. I was able to attend a few critiques yesterday, and it brought back fond memories of my time at Laguna College, watching all of my animation friends present their animatics.

The RCAD students had some great projects. Dreamworks director Steve Hickner came to critique their films and give a lecture on eye-tracking, combining shots to eliminate unnecessary cuts, and establishing the geography with the main character.

Steve Hickner is mostly know for directing the Bee Movie and the Prince of Egypt, but has also produced many other films, including television series. He's worked with Steven Spielberg on a number of projects, and gave us some insider advice on staging characters and film composition.
Here are a few tips:

- Steve reiterated several times that many student films have too many cuts and they begin to look choppy. He also emphasized that he does not like using dissolves between frames unless the story calls for it. Whereas having too many cuts make a film look choppy, too many dissolves causes the action to lose its snap.

- When telling a visual story, establish as much as you can in the opening shot. Give a good silhouette, reveal the geography of the environment and how the character fits into it.

- When showing a character reaching for something, open up the pose. In other words, use the arm farthest from the view so the audience's view is unobstructed by the arm.

- Steven Spielberg says, "Every third shot should re-establish the geography".

- Use shots, angles, point of view to establish scale. Make it obvious how big and small everything is compared to everything else, and then exaggerate it.

- Steven Spielberg says, "Having the camera at eye level is the LEAST interesting viewpoint. Shoot slightly above or below instead.

- Use Google images of skies to add in as backdrops to your animatic. Make the environment as real as you can - clean it up!

- Stack your storyboards to see where the eye-trace will line up. You don't want your audience having to move their head. The eye movement should be very minimal. Do a camera adjust so the subject will appear near the same spot in the previous frame.

These are the main points that Steve made, which he demonstrated through four student films that he reworked. As I was listening and watching, I kept thinking of how so much of this relates to narrative illustration and picture books. I'm really glad to have been able to attend this lecture and apply these tips to my own work!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hidden Gators

I decided to take my new dog, Siena, on an adventurous outing! I felt it was time to get outta town and explore the back country. I packed a lunch for myself and the pup, then hit the road...

First stop was Myakka River State Park. This park has a big lake with river inlets that wind through the jungle. I didn't get to explore that area because I had Siena with me, and dogs aren't allowed in canoes. We explored the trails, and our first stop was the canopy suspension bridge and tower. This bridge elevates you above the tree tops, revealing a panorama of....flatness. Pretty much flat jungle. Wasn't all that exciting. In fact, I didn't even snap a picture except for one of the bridge.

After hiking a few loop trails, we took off to our next destination - Highland's Hammock. Two hours northeast of Sarasota, this State Park was similar to Myakka only more compact (jungle-wise) and had distinct swamp areas that I could access by foot. I stopped to take a picture of this little country church on the side of the road. It symbolizes (to me) how life feels here. Simple. Like, you just have to listen to country music while driving around town, because everything here is so UNpretentious - it's quite refreshing.

While hiking through Highland's Hammock, I felt like I was on the set of Gilligan's Island.
Think tropical jungle....

Then think of everything that goes along with tropical jungle during the summer:

SNAKES (in trees)!!!

This place was definitely CREEPY! To intensify things, I was the only one on EVERY trail I went on. And there were plenty of people driving around the park. Maybe I was the only crazy person to actually go INTO the jungle. Who knows...except that every time I stopped to take a picture there were like 50 mosquitoes all over me. And every few feet there were HUGE spiders on their webs, spanning the trail to catch and devour who knows what. It was grossly fascinating - each time I paused to contemplate something, I got the heebie jeebies. I'm pretty sure I hiked those trails in record time.

The best part of all this, however, was walking through the swamp! SO CREEPY!!!! It was very quiet all around, the air heavy and thick, the waters still as could be. Then, there was a rustling in the bushes! And a pair of ibis took off, flapping their white wings like innocent doves praying to God that they wouldn't be eaten ALLIGATORS!!!! AGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

That's what my imagination sounded like as I cut through the swamp, eyes darting across the boardwalk to either side of the mysterious pools.

Yeah, I walked that trail pretty fast too. I'm glad I had the dog with me, or else I would have ran. And, to my great disappointment, I didn't see any alligators (thank God).

Equally as adventurous but way less scary was crossing the single-railing catwalk. Siena did a great job. I was hoping she wouldn't see a squirrel and jump off. To my amazement, she stayed very focused and led the way with a loose leash, taking her sweet time. Good girl!

Since I never encountered another human being on one of the trails, I decided to set up my camera on a stump and take a timed shot of myself and the dog, for memories sake.

(Ok, so in the photo above, I'm being swarmed by teeny tiny mosquitoes. As soon as the camera timer went off, I ran yelling and swatting the air. I think I'll go back in winter when there are less mosquitoes)

Where am I?

Wow, I'm overdue for a blog post. SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED! I'll try to keep this short...

Ok. So, classes at Ringling started on August 22nd. All of my students have turned in their first project in Color/Composition, which involved creating a triptych that utilized principles of contrast & tension between geometric and organic abstract shapes. I must say, they are pretty exceptional, catch on quick and did a very nice job! Here is a picture of the room I teach in...

I really like the campus atmosphere. It's very supportive and my colleagues are passionate about what they do!! The students make the whole place come to life. I love working with them, talking through ideas, having creative discussions and being amongst people who love love love art.

In other news, I adopted a Siberian Husky from a rescue center in Clearwater called Husky Haven of Florida. She is the best doggie everrrr! I named her Siena (after the Italian city where the reddish color Sienna comes from...and to keep in theme with my former dog, Florence, who was named after the neighboring Italian city). Here's a picture of Siena dipping her feet into the Gulf of Mexico!

Everything is so green, the sky so blue, the air so clean! The clouds are killer! I blink and stutter almost everyday at how pristine and simple life is here.

I'm still freelancing and making paintings. I brought most of my studio with me (in fact, I had 5 boxes of books for every 1 box of clothes). I'm currently exploring a new series of character profiles for my Musicorn/Guardian of the Heart series. These works are for my own good fun, which is needed to keep inspiration flowing. I had to wait for my new oil painting materials to arrive, so I used acrylic wash and colored pencil to create these pieces:

It has been said, "Wherever you go, there you are", and that is true in my case! I'm still creating space for imagination, just from a new location on the globe. I'm looking forward to everything I'll be learning while I'm here. The change of scenery is already stirring new ideas within me. I'd like to incorporate the Floridian clouds and vegetation into new paintings. Here are a few pics of the new space where I go to create...

What they call a "lanai" down here in the south. It's a screened porch to keep out the nasty mosquitoes.