Sunday, January 4, 2009

Your Legacy and Mine

In trying to unlock what it is that makes the New York animation scene so special, it occurred to me that this city (both today and in its checkered past) happens to house most of my animation heroes. Starting out, my animation heroes were as generically typical as anybody else's. It started and ended with Disney, the original self-made man of animation.

Each year I tell my SVA career class that they will soon be meeting the true heroes of their career. These will be the individuals that act as mentors, guides, and sources of boundless inspiration. Most importantly, these are the people that may give you your first breaks and/or career expanding opportunities. The most important heroes are ones that become a part of your life.

This situation should not be any different whether you are based in Hollywood, San Francisco, or Toronto. However, there's a key difference that separates New York's animation heroes from other animation hub cities. In New York, there's a far greater chance you'll meet diverse heroes––distinguishing themselves in any number of creative areas. Take your pick. The tops in children's books? Mo Willems. Successful TV cartoon creator? Mr. Warburton. Giant CGI feature studio founder? Chris Wedge. Flash animation industry leader? Aaron Augenblick. Oscar winner? John Canemaker. World's most celebrated indie animator? Bill Plympton. Internet cartoon pioneer? Xeth Feinberg. Animation historian/author? Amid Amidi. Breakthrough indie animated stop/motion feature director? Tatia Rosenthal. The list goes on and on.

From the moment I graduated SVA, the culture of New York animation effected me in a profound way. I was as frightened as anyone who ever graduated from a four-year animation program. But, from the moment I got my first break (courtesy of Mr. Michael Sporn), I began to interact with people who were scoring Oscar nominations, making internationally recognized indie animated shorts, pitching shows, writing scripts, creating hit cartoon series, illustrating books, running their own studios, and traveling from festival to festival on the strength of their films or career achievements.

I can only imagine how different it might have felt if I had been in Hollywood. There, it seems the dream is to become as good as possible to secure a position on the best productions in town. The dream there is to be part of a history of craft where creating quality content is somebody else's job. In New York, we have the benefit of working on industry projects while keeping one foot in our own content creations. In Hollywood, this would be the exception to the rule. In New York, its in the oxygen.

How could that not influence me? How could I not dare to try making a few contributions myself? The opportunity is here, folks. Although I'm only 35 years old, I can look back and see heroes of a generation coming up behind me (The Rauch brothers, anyone?). While that can be a little unnerving, it also re-energizes me to continue onwards and upwards on my own projects. This weekend I just locked picture on my new six minute animated film, "Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers." I wouldn't have had the audacity to even pretend to be a filmmaker without the heroes of New York's animation past and present cheering me on. What company we keep. Sounds like a legacy to me.

Speaking of legacies, two of New York's animation's finest, J.J. Sedelmaier and Howard Beckerman (with support from Blue Sky Studios) have curated a very special exhibit on New York animation called "It All Started Here!" (see illustration/invite above) Start the year by taking a step into your own checkered history. And, its FREE!!! I hope you'll come down and show your support at the January 17, opening reception. I'll see you there!

Click below for more information on this special exhibit:


Tim Rauch said...

What you're talking about is precisely why I decided to stay in New York after graduating from St. John's. New York is full of filmmakers. Practically everyone here is one, by choice or by necessity. That makes for a pretty interesting mix.

Mike Rauch said...

The spirit of the independent hustler abounds in New York City and extends outside of just animation. I think that's something important to remember as well. It gives us the opportunity to connect with other independent creatives who might be interested in collaborating and bringing their unique abilities to an animated project.

Elliot Cowan said...

I'm not a Rauch, can I still leave a comment?

David B. Levy said...

Hiya guys,

Tim, I do think NY has the largest concentration of indie filmmakers, but too me, that's just one of the perks. More importantly to me, we have the largest collection of innovators in all the creative arts. I'm continually inspired by the animation film community here, but I draw an equal amount of inspiration from animation people succeeding in diverse areas.

Elliot, its not too late to be a Rauch. I'm hoping to be adopted by their family soon.

j.j. sedelmaier said...

Hey Dave -

Thanks so much for the mention ! I DO hope lots of people will at least come check out the exhibit. There'll be lots of stuff that you won't have seen anywhere else ! There are also some terrific programs and panels being setup at the Jacob Burns Film Center, Pelham Picture House, and the NY ComicCon ! It'll also be a wonderful way for everyone to get acquainted with their heritage. . .

Happy New Year !!

Emmett said...

I recently wondered about what it meant to meet your heroes, because the meaning has changed for me the last few years in New York. The reason it has changed is because I've managed to meet so many professionals like you, Dave, as well as have access to so many special screenings with special guests. Suddenly the line between the fan and the untouchable idol is blurred.
New York has so much to offer, and offers the artistic safety so many of us wish to keep.

Linda Beck said...

There is truly something magical about NY animation and its heroes... perhaps that the truly great ones are willing to walk amongst us.

This is a really great post, Captain.