ZuneJourney.net

ZuneJourney.net animationI have never been a fan of Microsoft, their approach to software, their “squash the little guy” business practices or their design and interface choices.

Just a personal point of view, of course, but I think their years of market dominance in computer operating systems and their huge corporate bureaucracy have made them complacent and arrogant, leading to the “you’ll use it this way because we said so” approach to design; (and the joke: “Q: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: None; they just declare darkness the standard.”)

Granted, I have yet to check out Expression, their new graphics and design production suite, which is based on Creature House Expression, a vector based “Natural Media” drawing tool originally form Creature House and Fractal Design that I liked very much; but the fact that Microsoft’s Expression promotional page doesn’t even display correctly in Firefox for Mac doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm.

I do try to keep my eye out, though, and once in a while interesting things do come out of Redmond (Microsoft Surface, for example), and occasionally, they pull out a cool piece of design or animation.

ZuneJourney.net is an interactive promotional site for Microsoft’s Zune media player, which has received less than overwhelming acceptance in the market dominated by Apple’s iPod. The site is largely composed of a fun Flash based animation that you drill into by holding your mouse down in the center of the scene.

You thus appear to move through a tunnel-effect tour of a series of animated scenes, in a way quite reminiscent of The Zoomquilt (originality doesn’t seem to be one of Microsoft’s strong points either).

Original or not, the result is a fun visual amusement, lots of colorful screens and a nice bit of interaction. Moving your mouse away from the center of the screen reverses the process and you appear to move backward, with the images receding instead of advancing toward you.

This is the kind of animation that Flash does well, and points out one of the advantages of the scalability of vector graphics, an image format that still doesn’t have native support in the major browsers (they let the Flash plug-in handle it).

Unfortunately (for Microsoft), the informational component of the site, presumably its purpose, is minimal and not easily accessible; pointing out once again that good design is less about how things look than how they work.

 
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Thugs on Film

Thugs on Film
Thugs on Film is one of my favorites of the crop of independent Flash animation short series that have come and gone over the past few years.

Distributed by Mondo Mini Shows, Thugs on Film is lamentably no longer being produced. Mondo’s awkward an inelegant distribution and promotion model always confused me, and evidently, other potential viewers as well. They now seem intent on putting most of their efforts into Happy Tree Friends, a series whose appeal is lost on me.

No so with Thugs on Film, a wonderfully snarky setup in which a couple of British thieves, er, independent small businessmen, sit around in a warehouse full of loot merchandise and review movies, awarding the reviewed feature a rating at the end based on the number of pilfered recently acquired Rolexes up their sleeves. Thugs on Film is just up my alley, irreverent, funny and drawn with a style that has a nice springy feeling of rough line work and is designed with the requirements of inexpensive limited animation for Flash in mind.

The designers and animators take advantage of color and simple shapes to create mood and settings, and the limited animation is used to best advantage to compliment the writing. The characters, Stubby and Cecil, are well designed, both visually and conceptually, and play well off of each other.

For a while, you couldn’t even find these animations. Mondo’s misguided attempts to keep them monetized instead kept them out of reach, and confused even devoted fans trying to search out the episodes.

Some of them (though certainly not all) are now available again on the Thugs on Film section of the Mondo Mini Shows site, even if it’s in a less than wonderful interface. Wait for a short eSurance spot and the episode plays. You can choose more from the scrolling menu below the main screen.

The older ones ended with an interactive quiz, with a different short snippet shown in response to your answer, but these seem to be short circuited now into ads for Happy Tree Friends and eSurance.

Some of the older episodes are also better and more elaborate, they apparently got a little tired of the formula after a while.

You can also look through the other Mondo cartoons, though except for an occasional episode of Like, News, none of them has particularly grabbed my attention.

Created by Dan Todd, Thugs on Film was a group effort. I’m not sure how consistent the team was throughout its run, but here are some of the credits from a middle period episode (in which they reviewed The Mummy Returns): Directed by W Kamu Bell, Design by Rhode Montijo, Storyboards by David Donar, Backgrounds by Jenny Hansen and animation by John Cimino, Mark Giambruno and Mark West.

I give Thugs on Film five Rolexes.

 
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Gerry Mooney

Sister Mary Dracula - Gerry Mooney
Back in the mid to late 90’s, when the webcomics landscape looked more like an empty plain dotted with tiny houses than today’s bustling metropolis, one of those houses was an online comic called Bugbots: The Mansect Rebellion.

Created by husband and wife team Gerry and Viki Mooney, the strip had a fun, brash, 60’s Marvel feeling to it, with nice touches of humor thrown in. In the fourth issue, the comic became interactive, with panels that changed and revealed their word balloons on rollover. Unfortunately, that comic was eventually abandoned (or is ona long long hiatus), and the Mooneys moved on to other things.

Gerry Mooney, in addition to his continuing work in the areas of cartoon illustration, technical illustration and gallery painting, has ventured back into comics with a new graphic novel project called Sister Mary Dracula.

Based on a Flash animation that he created in 2001, it tells the story of fourth grader named Terry Malloy, a thinly-veiled stand in for Mooney himself as a schoolboy, who is convinced that one of his teachers at St. Egregius the Stricter Elementary, is, in fact, a vampire.

The 100 page story is being published in 20-page chapters, the first of which has been printed and is available through the site. You can read some sample pages on the site, as well as viewing the original animation. (I can’t give you direct links because the site is in frames and the navigation is in Flash.)

It may appear from the wording on the site that “Buy Chapter One” refers to purchasing a chapter of a webcomic, but it actually refers to an issue of the print comic (I think just due to the use of the word “chapter” instead of “issue”). The online pages are simply previews. They are large enough, though, to give a nice feeling for the light touch Mooney has applied to the drawing, with just enough tone work to set an appropriate mood for the story.

I don’t have the background to identify with a strict Catholic school upbringing, but I think most of us, particularly those who liked to draw in school when we were supposed to be doing other things, can find resonance in the protagonist’s experiences and flights of escapist fantasy.

 
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Forget the film, watch the titles (update)

Closing titles - Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events - from Forget the film, watch the titlesIf you’re a fan of pop songs, particularly from the 1960’s when the three minute pop song was perhaps at its peak as a musical form, you’re familiar with the concept of a “golden intro”, that delicious first 20 or 30 seconds of instrumental music before the vocals start, that was often a thing of beauty in itself, above an beyond what may or may not have been a great song in total.

For examples, listen to the exquisite first 20 seconds of the Beach Boys’ California Girls or that wonderful descending pattern that forms the intro to the Kinks’ beautiful Waterloo Sunset; ahhhh – fractional moments of musical bliss. (The existence of these little bits of beauty was, of course, accentuated in being defaced by disk jockeys of the time, who made an infuriating, deranged, grafitti-like art form out of talking over entire song intros and ending their blabbering only microseconds before the song’s vocals started, but I digress…).

Similar to the wonderful hidden jewels of song intros, the introductions, or opening credits, of films have long been a repository for gems that often stand out from their surrounding work; which again, may or may not be up to the quality of the intro.

In recent years the opening credits, once considered a form of entertainment in themselves, also prominently in the 1960’s, have been de-emphasized, their place having been taken by the closing credits. In either case, the titles of films are a sort of hidden and underappreciated art form, rarely in the spotlight but as worthy of attention as animated shorts.

In another example of Why I Love the Internet, there is a site out there devoted to just that concept. Forget the film, watch the titles is part of the Submarine Channel, a portal for independent film. When I first wrote about it back in February, the project was just getting off the ground and the selection was small. On checking back, I’ve found the selection expanded, well worth a return visit.

Much to my delight, it now includes the great closing titles to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (sequence at left), one of my favorite pieces of short animation in recent years (and a prime example of the credits being considerably better than the movie). These were designed and directed by Jamie Caliri, who was the director of the terrific animated ad called “Dragon” for United Airlines last year (see my post on Jamie Caliri).

Like that sequence, the Lemony Snicket titles were done essentially with painted paper cut-outs, artfully drawn, arranged and animated. In the case of the Snicket sequence the lead animators and layout artists were Todd Hemker and Benjamin Goldman. Forget the film is good about not only giving you the credits for the credit sequences, but links to further information.

The collection is not growing rapidly, but you can sign up to receive their newsletter and know when the next title sequence gem has been added to the showcase.

 
 
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Netdiver

Netdiver: IllustrationI hope today is a good day for you to get lost in a time-sink, because here’s another major one.

Netdiver is a site that collects and displays links to websites that the author, Carole Guevin, aided by her techie co-founder Jean-François Simard, has selected as particularly appealing and well done. The overall emphasis of the site is on design, but Guevin has devoted an extensive section to the display of web sites by illustrators, as well has having sections of Photography sites and other Portfolios (largely designers).

There is also a section dedicated to Flash sites, Industrial, Powagirrrls, video and animation and a category for “Imaginative” (as though the rest of them weren’t).

In addition, there’s news, articles and a substantial and highly useful Toolbox for graphic and digital designers. The Sitemap will give you an overview of the available goodies on this extensive site.

The home page is somewhat blog-like, though without dated posts, with items of interest pulled to the fore.

When you enter an individual category you’re dropped on the most recent page of many, e.g. page 16 in the Illustration category. The numerical links to previous pages are arranged across the top of the page under the general navigation.

Guevin definitely has a point of view and specific range of styles in the sites and artists she selects, but it’s wide enough that you may find it accommodates work and designs appealing to a variety of tastes.

Don’t blame me if you look up and find out half your day has disappeared. I warned you.

 
 
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Animator vs. Animation (Alan Becker)

Animator vs. Animation - Alan Becker
OK, I have to admit that this is something I find particularly appealing for a number of reasons, and may not appeal to everyone to the same degree, but I can’t help enjoying it as much as I do.

First of all, I’m a sucker for comics stories or animations in which the artist interacts with his or her creation. One of my all-time favorite Warner Brothers cartoons, for example, is Duck Amuck, in which Daffy is tormented by the hand, pencil and eraser of the unseen animator.

Animator vs. Animation, a Flash animation by Alan Becker, is a kind of reversal on that notion, in which the animator’s creation gains a will of it’s own and engages him in a battle for control.

The particularly delightful thing for me is that the battlefield on which this conflict is played out is the Flash application interface itself. As someone who works in Flash, and in fact teaches it, I took great delight in seeing this familiar set of tools, palettes, timeline, and controls deconstructed in a battle between the artist’s stick figure character, initially labeled “victim”, and the artist, cleverly represented by the mouse cursor.

In spite of some of the Flash-specific references and in-jokes, I think anyone can appreciate the general idea and the entertaining way it’s presented.

Apparently, the animation has been successful enough that Becker has revised it, and followed it up with a sequel, Animator vs. Animation II, in which he has given his protagonist (antagonist) more power, in anticipation of a greater challenge, and the battle rages well beyond the Flash interface.

He says in the introductions to the two animations that the first one took him three months to complete; the second one, five months.

Becker doesn’t seem to have a web site, instead posting his animations and other projects to his deviantART space.

One of the other items on his page is this quite nice acrylic painting of his own home-grown watermelon. There are also other drawings. His brief bio indicates that he is only 18 and plans to attend the Columbus College of Art and Design and pursue a career in art. Something tells me we’ll be seeing more from him as time goes on.

[Link courtesy of Janet Kofoed]

 
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