Boys Night Out

Funny thing this internet business. As you all know, I'm a part of the newest web-darling-of-the-moment Drawn!, a multi-author blog on art, illustration, comics and various fun. When John "Robot Johnny" Martz was first getting this all started, he sent out an email to all the participants with a link to the site in its, at the time, infantile state. On the contributors page, I noticed that one of the artists was from Atlanta. What the heck? Scott Thigpen (or sThig if you're cool enough) happens to be this amazing professional illustrator living right here in the Atlanta area. I'm always jazzed to find artists and/or animators in the same town, as even though Atlanta may be a good-sized city, it still can have that relatively small town feel to it, especially when it comes to a limited sub-culture like illustration and animation. There's not many of us here in town, basically.

So, being the overly zealous blogger, I emailed Scott and mentioned something to the effect that hey, since we're in the same town we should hook up and do lunch or something. And since the Animation Show started up this past Friday, I thought that maybe that'd be a good first-time meet thing to do. He took the bait.

We met up at Apre Diem, right next door to the Midtown Art Cinemas, and finally were able to put faces to the voices after the several phone calls that lead up to the evening. It was a great dinner, as we talked shop and shared experiences, both funny and sad, about both the illustration and the animation biz. It was a great start to the evening as we both were able to talk about our careers without having to try and explain it all and still get blank stares. It was interesting to see that we both had more in common with each other than previously thought.

Scott and I are riveted by The Animation Show.

As Scott and I were watching the Animation Show, I remembered Scott's crazy hell that he mentioned on his blog. He said that he hadn't had much sleep recently, so all I could think was "I'm probably going to have to nudge him to wake up, I'm sure..." But no, he was a trooper and stayed awake throughout the Show.

Onto the show. The Animation Show was, as I had heard before, not as good as the first year, but I wasn't going to let others ruin it for me. Unfortunately, they were right. To a certain degree. Don't get me wrong, as I really did enjoy the show as a whole, it's just that the first Show had more going for it and the shorts had more "umph" to them, or something. I hate to say that the big letdown for the evening (and being at the end of everything, made you feel the same for the entire show) was Don Hertzfeldt's THE MEANING OF LIFE, to which, I'd have to say: Eh? Thanks, Don, for making the effort, but it fell far short of his previous endeavors. I felt like Don, himself, was one of his meandering babbling humans that were featured in this short, drawn in Hertzfeldt-ian stick-figure fashion: trying to say so much but not really saying anything worthy at all. I think that he was more proud of himself for shooting the entire film in real film, with nary a computer to help him. Why do I think this? He actually says so at the end of the credits. He says that all effects and shots were done entirely in-camera, with no computers or programs. Well, that's just fine and dandy, but so what? Whuddya want, a cookie? If you don't capture the audience with a decent story and characters, then it doesn't matter if you shot the entire thing with sticks and leaves. The initial concept and storyline was not entirely clear, and that's a major flaw. At the end, after the credits, everyone in the audience kinda just meandered out, deflated.

Unfortunately, Don has pigeon-holed himself because of his brilliant career before this one. Fans and others who know what to expect in his work will be confused with such a heavy-handed venture. I applaud Hertzfeldt for making the extra effort to go outside his own box, but the effort was short-sighted, and not thought out properly, if you ask me. Personally, I love his style of timing and pacing. His simple characters are executed with just the right amount of drawings and details. His humor can be a bit on the morbid side, but all in all I do like his body of work. LILY AND JIM, to me, is his best film. Excellent timing and animation with great story and funny characters. I thought BILLY'S BALLOON and REJECTED were a bit drawn out and went longer than they should, (running a particular joke into the ground) but good films overall. But if some people out there try to tell me that "Oh, you're missing the point with what he's trying to say here in MEANING OF LIFE. It's about the trivial existence of Man and how we are all just going about not connecting with each other, blah, blah, blah..." No. I'm not buying it. The film did not connect with me and, thus, was a disappointment.

I liked GUARD DOG, Bill Plympton's newest film, which was nominated for an Oscar. I'd been a bit disappointed with his recent fare, but this one had a very funny concept and I enjoyed his limited use of animation here.

I still enjoyed WARD 13 just as much the second time, as I'd seen this Aussie short in Ottawa. There's some crudeness to the construction of the puppets, but you overlook that as the story plays out. There's some great action sequences that would put some regular live-action action movies to shame. Nice job.

There were a couple of short films that had some interesting ideas and concepts, but get a bit long in the tooth as the show progresses. I liked the look and colors of F.E.D.S., by Jen Drummond, who worked with Bob Sabiston in Austin on WAKING LIFE, and has since moved to just outside Athens, GA. ROCKFISH, a CG short by Blur Studio was well designed and animated, but fell short on the story side. Not much there. Care for some morbidity? Then FALLEN ART is right up your alley. One stand out for me was HELLO, directed by Jonathan Nix. I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of these characters with heads comprised of audio players, with the main character a boom box with a cassette player, his love interest a portable CD player, and an old wise sage as a vintage Victrola. Nice line work and character design, and great job on the sound mix for this film. (If you go to Nix's site and you can see a Quicktime of the film.)

Overall, as I stated earlier, the Animation Show was not as strong as last year's edition, but it's still a great opportunity to see some original animation, whether it be in stop-motion, traditional 2D, or CG formats. A very diverse lot, which is always a cool thing.

Scott is deeply moved by my work.

Afterwards, Scott and I hung out in the lobby and chatted more about work, animation, illustration and children's books. We then thumbed through each other's sketchbooks as that's always an interesting trip into the mindset of an artist. Rather embarrassing at times, and sometimes downright scary, I always enjoy seeing the doodles and visual ramblings of others. Very fascinating.

So there ya go. We had a good time and it was especially nice to meet a fellow artist, with the added bonus that we live in the same town.

UPDATE: Check out sThig's version of the evening HERE.


  1. nice post ward!

    fyi out there to all in virtual land...I'm not that cool looking!

  2. Neither am I, but we now can be thanks to artistic license!

  3. WOAH!! I totally forgot about the animation show!!! What's happening to me??? AAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH!

    I usually love Bill Plympton's work but I really admire his illustration work a lot more than his animation--although a lot of it is very funny.

    Hey next time you guys roll out, give me a holler! Maybe we could assemble the Atlanta Animation/Illustration mafia for a meet and greet?

  4. What a great first date! ;)

    Sorry, I had to make the obvious joke. You may verbally strike me down now.

    Not to long before the Animation rolls into Austin. I'm already making plans.

  5. Great post, Ward! The illustrations really added to it.

  6. Great post. I felt exactly the same way about this year's Animation Show. Ward 13 and Fallen Art really stood out for me, but the show as a whole was better last year. One thing that was missing was the Hertzfeld shorts. Besides being funny and well done, they really helped tie things together and make it feel like one cohesive show last year.

  7. Awwww...Ward, I don't know, I didn't feel disappointed by this year's Animation Show. In fact, in many ways I thought this year's offerings were more imaginative and poetic, if not as funny as last year's. Ward 13, RockFish, and Fallen Art created some wildy creative and creepy scenarios, that were really thrilling! Plus, The short with the rotoscoped humans with animal heads was incredibly touching and pensive without being saccharine. As far as "The Meaning of Life" goes, The few moments of HILARIOUS interaction between all the interplanetary lifeforms were worth the moments where we were drifting aimlessly through space. I felt as if the "traveling" through Don's special effect star-void was there to illustrate the vast emptiness of much of the cosmos. The seriousness of those moments helped exagerate the silliness of the stick-figure aliens in contrast! Yikes...I've written too much...back to work...
    PS–––When are you going to go on a "date" with me? I'm jealous. ; >