Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mr. Future, At Last We Meet

I told you about my new short, Chief Your Butt's on Fire last week, and how it took thirteen years to complete.  My last shorts, The Indescribable Nth and Fractured Fairy Tales: The Phox, the Box and the Lox, were both completed in 1999 - that's right, the 20th century.

Here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, the year to which Marty McFly time travels in Back to the Future, and don't you know - it really IS the future.   When my wife looked into film festival submissions, film was not an option for many of them.  They wanted something called a DCP - Digital Cinema Package.  Why?  BECAUSE IT"S THE FUTURE!

My new "film". 
A DCP is a thumb drive.  That's it.  It won't work on your laptop, but it WILL work in a theater's digital projection system, at least in the U.S.  In a Film Journal International article by Doris Toumarkine, DCP's are described as having "either a 2K or 4K pixel count....and DCP standards even provide for shapes of the individual pixels. The more pixels in a frame, the sharper the picture, and this higher image resolution is what sets DCP apart in terms of visual quality from the other digital formats like Blu-ray."

Why is it that every new technological  advance in animation makes the experience less and less tactile?   Anyone who has ever used film knows the thrill of holding footage up to the light to peek at the physical evidence of their completed work.  The DCP, on the other hand, is like a little Swiss army knife that won't cut your finger, won't open a soda or wine bottle,  won't poke a hole in leather, open a can of beans, scale a fish, or scissor awkwardly.  Actually, it's nothing like a Swiss Army Knife.  Nevermind.  

When I interviewed Gary Conrad about his new documentary last week, he said, "I've regaled my 20-something coworkers with explanations of turning cranks on an Oxberry to create camera moves and they look at me like I'm from Neptune. Sigh. Gonna go take my fiber now."

I got to thinking about those days, at CalArts.  That Oxberry was truly awesome, and with a combination of imagination, ingenuity, and math skills you could do some amazing shots.  It was a very slow, painstaking process, lifting and dropping a platen for every new drawing,  cranking dials for zooms and pans, top and bottom pegs,  manual fades, table rotations, backwinding for multi-pass scenes, and, for the truly adventurous, the bi-pack.  Students would get so wrapped up in their work that they would refuse to come out when their assigned time was up.  Of all the doors at CalArts, the Oxberry room's was the most abused. Irate students beat it , kicked it, threw trash cans and obscenities at it, all until the little old security man in the yellow shirt shuffled up with the key and forced the embedded student out.  

In 1982, Darrell Van Citters brought his new Disney produced short Fun with Mr. Future up to CalArts for out viewing pleasure.  What a blast.  He got access to one of WDI's animatronic heads - without it's skin.  This was Mr. Future.  Chris Buck animated some broadly timed segments and the whole thing had a slightly subversive vibe that we all ate up.   

This would be a swell spot to embed Fun with Mr. Future, but I don't have a copy.  But I DO have this promotional poster Darrell made up.....

That was very funny, back then.  I was 20 years old and the 21st Century was still far, far away.  I'm glad to be part of the generation that bridged the gap from original filmmaking to the digital age. Otherwise, I'd feel like I missed something. 

Read FLIP's interview with Gary Conrad here:

Read about Steve's new short here:

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