Sunday, August 5, 2007

Oh Glendale

Take Off

On monday, August 23 at 5:45 am, my alarm clock (and girlfriend) politely yet firmly insisted I woke up to catch my 8:15am flight to Glendale. A brief scurry to the airport, a minimal flip out because I thought I was gonna be late (my girlfriend’s car clock was off) later and I was being partially undressed and searched, courtesy of the DHS. Also, Dave, you’ll be happy to know, since I forgot to take the defective tablet out of my bag and check it, I was momentarily detained, asked questions and had my backpack and notebook chemically swabbed. “We’ll let it slip this time, but next time I’m whipping out the latex gloves, buddy” the airport security guy confided in me. He wasn’t smiling.

Just so you know: LA is hideously filthy and ugly. But unabashedly awesome in it's own right.

More on that later. Don't forget to bring your respirators...

The Studio
At the studio, we were taken on a whirlwind tour of the rather expansive studio. You’ll all be happy to learn that our HQ is not wholly unlike the Tardis. Diminutive at first, but there’s a shit ton o’ crap inside.
The very first person we ran into was Mark Risley himself. I’d say he’s a good 6 foot 5” and about as wide across too. He’s very cheerful, contrary to popular belief very pleasant and hard working (he burns through approvals quite quickly when he’s not deathly ill).
He was very pleased to meet us and took us to meet our surrogate mother for the first day: Heidi Ewart and also Ashley’s exec. Assistant.

Heidi is an absolute darling, very much on the ball and drove us to the hotel that night. Over the course of our stay there, Heidi inspired the best description I have for her: Heidi-rific.

We then met every single person in the company (about 60,00). We saw the animation department (upstairs), Darrell & Ashley’s offices, the design department (downstairs), storyboard cubicles, the editorial department and the kitchen (free popcorn & hot chocolate).

There’s cool art and toys all over the building and Darrell’s office is plastered with original art, cels toys and such. He’s currently writing a book on the downfall of UPA and has some beautiful prints of backgrounds those guys did. Check out some of Ben’s newly purchased artwork….

Most of the animators sit upstairs in the “Bullpen” (oooo fancy), and the rest of all 12 animators sit downstairs. I was under the impression there were a lot more.

While we were still there, they’d hired on 2 new animators, BOTH GIRLS (Joann/JoJo Ramos & Mrs. MikeHollingsworth). What gives, Portland?! Not to mention the girls in the Art Dept.

Jason Bierut (lead on Slacker Cats) sits downstairs in a cubicle and has a fancy Cintiq and a drawing table as well as some cels from Roger Rabbit. Noice!

Everyone works on PC’s with Wacoms, the odd persons have Cintiqs (Jason B/all design people) and some people have a nice wooden animation disk table, but the disk was replaced with a built-in tablet PC and a little keyboard attached to it! Fancy!
It sure is nice to work on a regular machine with a big ol’ screen. Hint, hint. ;)

Jason proved to be a very capable teacher and explainer of things, as well as an allround nice guy. The first thing he did was apologise for his role as a lead on Slacker Cats.

The rest of the designers and administrative people also sit downstairs, such as Paul Aguas (IT guy), Peggy Regan (producer), Suzannah Stoll (female Dave), Scott Lowe (asset manager),
Pete( r) Michail (art director),

Paul Aguas & Nate
: Suzannah & Peggy Regan Scott Lowe, John Anderson
IT guru & storyboarder, PM & Producer Asset Manager & TD

In the animation bullpen, we had Erik Girndt, recent CalArts graduate and Disney apprentices Mario Furmanczyk and token Brasilian Dimitri Frazao, effects animator and Suzannah Stoll’s brand new husband Tim Szabo, veteran South Park animator Andy Arrett, Cesar Enriquez, lead animator Joey Adams, funnyman Mike Hollingsworth and myself.

Mario Furmanczyk Dimitri Frazao MikeHollingsworth

Tim Szabo-Stoll (effects & animation)

Joey Adams (lead)

From numerous sources I hear there is just too much work for anyone to really get done in LA. The amount of Flash animators is pretty limited and that also certainly makes Renegade a big fish in a little Flash pond, even in LA. I’d venture to say that we are by far the biggest Flash player in Portland. Big up yaself!

One thing I definitely notice is that EVERYONE here has freelance projects they’re working on. Jason works on interstitials for Comedy Central’s “Li’l Bush”, Dimitri does storyboards and worked at JibJab, Tim Sz does storyboards too and well, pretty much everyone I speak to. They all go home after work and work some more.

Apparently there isn’t more to life than money and productivity. Beer drinking sadly took a second place to work in our time there, as we would usually come in to a deserted office around 8:30/9am…..after we got a breakfast sammich (heated fresh croissant with turkey/bacon & cheese of your choice) and some coffee at URARTU Coffee across the street run by our Armenian friend with the impeccable hair and the awesome shirts.

Most people roll in around 10’ish and Erik Girndt and I usually end up alone around 7:30-8pm. One really nice thing is that you can always enter the building. Just punch in the last four digits of your social security, followed by * and hey presto!

As I hinted at before, LA is covered in filthy filthy thick clouds of smog, visible on the streets as well as in the air, hills half shrouded by clouds of grey. An endless supply of ritzy cars (with or without fat rims) dot the palm-treed boulevards.
For those that have never been to LA, there are very little trees, very little grass and the crickets you sometimes hear near a sporadic tree or bush at night are actually very crafty animatronics.

With the absence of time and a car to really travel around, Glendale seems pleasant enough, with restaurants and shops abounding at every turn. We basically lived on this avenue called Brand Blvd, which runs for however long, straight from the hotel to the studio.

There’s a huge highway that runs right through it, and it’s kinda freakish to stand on the overpass and watch cars barrel down the road at 70 mph and imagine you’re standing in their path. Or maybe that’s just me.

Ben and I started scouting for restaurants to be graded on the Ben & Jeremy ®© Scale of Excellence (1-5). Sofar we’ve not hit a 5 but we’ve certainly hit a 1.5 (tiki décor does not necessarily make for good food. Meh.).

Let’s see. Over the course of the first week, we spent a lot of time working, Ben worked downstairs and I worked upstairs. Since the departments are so divided, most people have set little groups they appear to go to lunch with but as far as I can tell people do like to hang out and have a good time.

Throughout our visit, everyone was amazingly hospitable and just overall very friendly and always open and interested in answering questions. I spent a lot of time going around, talking to people about how they dealt with animation issues, animation approaches, tips and tricks. Ben had a new trick most every day with Pete breathing down his neck (“How’s that design comin’?”). I’ve implemented some new (to me) extensions/plugins and started to work on economising my animation.

Scott Lowe (fastest person in the world using the menus instead of shortcuts), Jason Bierut, and MikeHollingsworth were all very adept at answering my specific questions.
Jason is good to have around to talk to about things, show you possible approaches and while he’s telling you what you asked, he’ll give all sorts of little bits of practical information to go along with it.

As for dining: I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of dining choices available to us on the strip between work and the hotel. We first ran into JAX Bar & Grill, a cozy place in which we both were very pleasantly surprised by the food quality. My "Gringo Beef Dip" was very very tasty and Ben's Trout Almondine was quite delish as well. THe daily live jazz was mostly good but sometimes too damn loud (note to self: in a small bar, trumpet players do NOT need mics).
Our servers (Kati Z and Jennifer W) were quite pleasant. Anyone that wants to animate for JNN (Jewish News Network?) In-N-Out was disappointing and religiousy, Porto's (Cuban sandwiches, pastry, and coffee) is great and cheap but "black sunday" busy.....a great assortment of food awaits us all. Wandering into random Hawthorne establishments has proven more disappointing than on Brand Blvd, that was striking to me at least.

Interesting things I learned:

- if you MUST skew a symbol and want to preserve line weight, duplicate the symbol and skew it inside.

- Extensions! Extensions! Extensions! (FrameEdit, John’s NTPanel & Multiswap)

- Hot keys (for those that don’t already do them)

- Snap ‘n Settle

- Glendale’s nickname is “Little Armenia”

- Suzannah Stoll LOVES McDonald’s (and is not afraid to admit it)

- In-N-Out Burger was not that impressive (they refused me an Octuple Octuple)

- Valencia, CA also goes by “Cockblock, CA

- Waitresses with big diamond rings are not necessarily trying faking you out

- Our bagel condiments are superior (but they have a bagel cutter)

- I’m certain we spent half our awesome per diem at Jax’s