Monday, August 31, 2009
Making a Living Versus Living
*Enjoying a movie at Notting Hill's Electric Cinema. This is the only way to see a movie...
My wife and I just flew back from a week in London and this is where I could write, "and boy are our arms tired." While we were planning this trip, some of my NY animation friends asked if I was going to set up any animation meetings while we were there. That was the furthest thing from my mind, but our trip was not completed unconnected to animation.
For one thing, our friend Sophie Lodge (a London-based 3D animator who animated on Peter Jackson's "King Kong," and "Return of the King,") lent us her flat which was smack in the middle of Knotting Hill. No, we never did bump into Hugh Grant but, we did see actor Josh Brolin at a screening of "Inglorious Basterds" at the neighborhood's Electric Cinema. The movie theatre is a restored 100 year old cinema with the seats ripped out and replaced with cushy individual leather armchairs. There's a full service bar, posh snacks, and terrific popcorn to boot. I highly recommend it.
This vacation was a chance for Debbie and I to be tourists and catch up with our friends Sophie Lodge, Steve May, and Yasmine Ismail, all animators who we had first met at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival the year before. But, the week long trip did not devolve into a 7-day shop-talk. We are all friends first and connected by animation second. And, Debbie and I were deeply grateful for their hospitality and generosity. With their advice (along with the recommendations of Justin and Emma Simonich) we took a boat ride up the Thames to Greenwich, explored Kensington Gardens, wandered the British Museum, walked through the creepy and claustrophobia inducing Sir John Soane's museum, stared history in the eye at the Tower of London, and dashed around the tube using our multi-ride Oyster cards (their version of the MTA's metro-card).
We also traced the steps of Jack the Ripper in White Chapel (where we enjoyed Indian food and the London take on the Bagel– spelled Beigel), had amazing Thai food in Notting Hill, and walked the bustling Saturday market at Portobello Road. And, to top it off, we rode the London Eye, filled our mouths with fish, chips, bangers and mash, and washed it down with more hard ciders than you could shake a stick at (Assuming that some like to shake sticks at their drinks.)
But, back to the assumption that this trip would include official animation meetings. I think that suggestion says a lot about us animation artists. We are a lucky lot. Even our getaways might be thinly veiled excuses to set up meetings, pitch projects, and otherwise network. For many of us, animation is more than just what we do for a living. It's much deeper than that. It's a passion that doesn't die at the end of the work day. But, while this may be true much of the time, it shouldn't be so all of the time. As Nina Paley said in a quote from my first book, "There's making a living, and there's living." So, to paraphrase Nina, not everything is animation. Either way, when you work in the creative arts, your personal experiences become a part of you that will come out in your art.
We had an interesting experience taking in the play "A New World–A Life of Thomas Paine," at the famed Globe Theatre. As Americans it was a bit odd to be sitting with a mostly British audience and seeing a recreation of the American Revolutionary War, including such shouted lines as, "The hated British!" It was like being privy to a mirror view of American history that we wouldn't normally see. The focus of the play was not the great success of a noble cause but on how Paine's idealistic notions were exploited by the American rebels and later, the French revolutionaries, to serve their own causes.
But, sadly, the play managed to take all this history and make it a very dull ride. There were bright moments (in particular a wonderfully full blooded Ben Franklin) but, the problem was that this Paine was a one note character who could not sustain the four hour ride. According to the play's author, Paine ate liberty for breakfast, freedom for lunch, reform for dinner, and compassion for dessert. I wondered, did Paine ever play cards, go fishing, speak on other topics besides changing the world? Near the end of the trip I began to read Bob Dylan's autobiographical "Chronicles: Vol.1" (2004), and at one point, Dylan notes that nobody ever wrote a song about Al Capone because he was a one-note character in real life and not full of the nuances needed to make a good subject for a folk song. The animation equivalent of this problem would be to think that to design a character is the same as writing a character.
The "living" that Nina Paley speaks about is why one can connect and be enriched by such things as travel, theatre, and literature––three things one might miss if everything is animation.