Life, Art, and Monkeys

Dave Barry is Amusing

Last week I was wandering through the library (as mentioned before, a favorite pastime of mine) and as I was on the way out I spotted Dave Barry's latest book:

I'd consider myself a Dave Barry fan, but not the type of ravenous fan who devours everything he writes. I own a few Dave Barry books, but there are more that I haven't read than ones I have. I'm more of a casual fan, I suppose.

Since it's been a while since I read one (well, aside from reading this one again for the 12th time) I grabbed a copy to check out along with a book on drawing and the novel Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker. In reading it, I learned two things:

  1.  Dave Barry is still hilarious.
  2.  I'm mad I'm not as hilarious as Dave Barry is.

In a quote used in the book I'm currently finishing writing (which is not funny), Hugh MacLeod says:

"Being good at anything is like figure skating- the definition of being good at it is being able to make it look easy."

Dave Barry makes being funny look so, so easy. It's almost frustrating for those of us who take joy in their own sense of humor. We shake our fists at the sky (which will no doubt reflect our emotions back down towards southern Florida, that being the purpose of the sky) and cry out "Darn you, David Barry! Why do you have to be so good at what you do! You're making me feel bad about myself!" We also yell at other great authors, like J.K. Rowling and Charles Dickens.

We... all do that, right? It's not just me, surely.

Some of the chapters in the book- which by the way are not about parenting as the cover suggests (as he notes in the comical introduction)- had me in tears and unable to breathe from laughing so hard. Some less so, but it was hard to get through any given paragraph without at least a grin plastered to my face.

I suppose I started this blog post to discuss my appreciation for his writing and humor, and how I'd like to be able to write hilarious articles like he does. I suppose I'm finishing this blog with the realization that I am not Dave Barry or Dave-Barry-Level-Funny, so let's just all cut our losses and go read his work instead of me trying to imitate him.

Which I'd still like to try an do sometime, and I suppose kind of did back in the Stupid Stuff is Stupid days. Unfortunately that blog did not become a best-selling series of books.

For which I blame Dave Barry for being better than me.

Filed under: Books 2 Comments

Speed Reading?

Over the weekend I went to the library (one of my favorite places in the world) and picked up a new book to read. Interestingly, it was chosen based on its cover. I literally judged a book by its cover.

The bold contrast stood out instantly as I walked by the shelf where this was on display, and I picked it up mostly out of curiosity of the title. The inside flap describing the story seemed compelling enough, so I took it with me to the checkout and opened it to read as soon as I got home.

There are a lot of reviews for the book online (which I looked up afterward, to see what others thought) and most of them praise the novel. Unfortunately, it wasn't for me. This happens, not every book is going to be for every person. I had just finished The Trials of Lance Eliot and this story by comparison was dreary and mundane in subject. There was no spark that made me enthusiastic to keep reading two chapters in.

Which, actually, is where I stopped.

For the first time in my reading history, I began a novel and then made the conscious choice not to keep reading. A friend of mine does this often, and is quite content with not wasting any more time than necessary reading something he isn't enjoying. He walks away partway into books all the time, and never regrets it. I tend to have the habit of sticking with a book to see if it gets better, and then usually caving halfway through with the thought "Well, I've gone this far, might as well finish it."

I was curious where the story would lead, though, so I proceeded to have another first: I skipped to the end. I literally read the first two chapters and the final three. Do you know what was fascinating about this experiment? I totally understood what had happened in the middle.

At no point in reading the final three chapters was I confused. The characters and situations that were resolved at the end were the characters and situations that were set up in the first two chapters, plus or minus a few incidental support players. I was able to read the last three chapters and feel a decided sense of completion, knowing what probably took place throughout the middle. All the information was there.

This is curious to me, which is why I'm writing about it today. I had many things to consider after doing this.

  • How terrible of a person was I for skipping pages upon pages of hard work by this author and going right to the end? (As a writer, I felt quite terrible indeed.
  • Simultaneously, how important was the middle from a storytelling perspective if I COULD do this?
  • Would it have been better to just set the book aside after two chapters and declare "This is just not for me?"
  • Why was I not compelled to continue after two chapters? (As a writer, this analysis is very important.)
  • Could I reasonably judge the book at all given that I had skipped so much, in spite of the fact that I felt a sense of completion?

Rather than go through all my thoughts on these questions, I'll leave them as questions for you to consider as well. I also wonder, have you ever done something like this with a book? Do you finish every book you begin, plugging away even if you decide partway through you aren't enjoying it? I'm very interested to hear others' thoughts on this topic, so if you have an opinion on this please chime in!


Winning Books

You can win this book over at Animator Island, should you want to enter!

Filed under: Animation, Books No Comments

Book Day

I stopped by the library today to drop off a novel I had borrowed and while there decided that I was going to use today mostly to dive into the words and worlds of others. So I picked up a handful of books to pour over, and boy are the themes diverse:

Adam, by Ted Dekker, is the fictional story of an FBI agent tracking a serial killer.

The Real Change-Makers, by David Warfield Brown, is a nonfiction book with the subtitle "Why Government is Not the Problem or the Solution."

The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, by James Kakalios, is a non-strictly-mathematical guide to Quantum Mechanics.

I also borrowed an audio book on microtrends which I started listening to in the car on the way back, and so far in just the introduction I very much disagree with the perspective it begins with. But I'm trying to do my best to keep an open mind, because too long have I been close-minded and certain of my being "right" about certain things. I'm ready to stop declaring right and wrong and just try to look at the world openly. (Of course, I have certain convictions that are not up for grabs thanks to certain experiences that have laid things out in complete black-and-white, no shades of gray to be seen, and those make sure whatever I encounter will not throw me into lunacy. You need a sort of "moral armor" when you swim into topics as deeply as possible, because some topics can really mess you up if you don't have backup. One can study existentialism for example and lose their mind.)

And lastly I've been helping an old FAA (FredtheMonkey Animation Assistant) with his portfolio to apply for CalArts which led me to pull Drawn to Life by Walt Stanchfield off my shelf, and I never completely finished that book so I'm going to read it as well.

Lots of learning to do today; I'm really looking forward to it! We all need to schedule time every now and then to expand our minds in different directions. Of course, the WANT to do so determines if we will or not. For a great number of years, I did not want to learn or grow, I was content with where I was and what I knew. And that's okay, everyone is on a different path/schedule and sometimes you run ahead and sometimes you stop along the side of the road for a while.

Filed under: Being Human, Books 5 Comments

Winning Books

I don't believe I mentioned but there's a contest running right now over at Animator Island:

It's in honor of the one year anniversary of the site. It's been a fun year writing about animation stuff, and I've met some cool folks in the process. Of course, celebrating the anniversary reminds me that Fred's anniversary came and went without any fanfare. The new website is still not finished and I haven't learned enough Toon Boom yet to do new cartoons in the program. (Plus I haven't used Flash in so long I'm not sure I'd even be able to motion tween something in there at this point!) Alas, while Fred will definitely go on in the future it will simply have to wait for now. I'm completely absorbed in the first Studio Riki short leaving little time for much of anything else, let alone all the work FtM takes. I'll certainly keep you posted here on the blog, though.


Teaching Animation

I had an interesting experience yesterday when an animator I know named Andrew asked me if Animator's Crash Course was a good book to learn from with lessons in it. I explained that it was a great book, but it was more tips than lessons, and more for once you already knew the foundations of animation.

I asked what books he had and he told me Preston Blair's Cartoon Animation. I told him to start with the Bouncing Ball on page 100 (since I could see in my own copy which page that was on). As he asked me several more questions, though, I realized that the explanation in the Preston Blair book is absolutely TERRIBLE for beginners. The drawing aspects are great (first 100 pages) and if you know what he's talking about then the examples after those are great too. But only if you know what he's talking about. Trying to use it as a diagram for explaining the bouncing ball made me see how little sense the picture actually made. For starters he has some wacky spacing that you would NEVER start a new animator on. It might work great in the real world, but it's not where you should start someone.

So I drew up a quick version myself.

At least here things are broken up evenly, even though yes it's a little boring and not what you'd want your final to look like. It's a better starting point though! And still not a very good one, to be honest. The arc complicates things. Really it should start with a ball bouncing IN PLACE.

It dawned on me that for as many animation books as are out there, most don't walk you step by step through the very earliest process in a very good way. Some are fine, but they rush things because it seems so simple to the person who is writing it. If I say "the bouncing ball" every animator who already knows how to animate doesn't need further explanation, but if you don't already know it's actually really complicated! It was an interesting discovery.

There is Richard Williams "The Animator's Survival Kit" of course, and that does a nice job fully explaining. I wonder, though, looking at it now, does it do almost TOO good of a job? It's very wordy, especially at the start. I wonder if it might be better to have a "Start Here" book that merely walked you very, very simply through the first steps of learning animation, without making any assumptions or going too fast at that crucial early stage. Once you know what timing and spacing and easing are, it's easy to go quicker in explanations, but early on those words make no sense.

If anyone knows a good starter book for animators, let me know! I thought I knew a bunch, but looking at them now they aren't as great for that purpose as I thought. You almost need a teacher to go along WITH the books, otherwise it doesn't make enough sense.

Filed under: Animation, Books 3 Comments

Quitting Forever Again

Man, it's so frustrating when I feel like I'm improving but produce a drawing like this:

Blech. What a monstrosity. Makes me sick to even look at it.

I've been trying to practice faces again, since obviously it's an area that I need a lot of work in. It's tough, though, because drawing something you suck at drawing just makes you want to quit. The good news is I only wanted to quit for about 20 minutes or so before getting mad and jumping back in because I didn't want to be defeated. Still, it would be nice to just be better at this already...

It wasn't a total loss, I also did this drawing. While it's no masterpiece, at least it wouldn't scare sewer rats to death like the image above.

The first drawing (which actually came after this one) has no redeeming qualities at all. This second one, though, has glimmers of "not too bad" which I can build on. So I'm trying to focus on the glimmers instead of the total disaster.

In other news, I just finished "reading" The Enemy by Charlie Higson.

I put "reading" in quotes because to be honest I probably read half the book by the end. I skipped paragraph after paragraph at times because I just wanted to know what happened. It was a good enough book to make me care enough to finish, but not good enough to hold me with every word. There were a lot of gory descriptions and drawn out internal monologues that just didn't interest me, so I skipped them. The first few chapters I didn't, but as the book went on (too long, in my opinion) and more characters died, I cared less. I will say this about Mr. Higson, though. He does an incredible job at making you care about the characters as people. I'm not sure how, but even a few pages in I was caring about a character who dies early on, and it was a blow when he was killed. As such when a MAIN character died (stupidly) part way through, I was hurt and so began the downward spiral of numbness to characters being killed. By the end I was just flipping through pages to get to the minimum information needed to tell me the story.

I think if it had been TWO books, I'd have enjoyed it a ton more. It was split into pretty clear halves, really. When the characters (who you care about because of Higson's particular writing skill) achieved their first big victory (where the book should have ended) you didn't have time to revel in it at all. It was just "Okay, now here is the next problem." I would have liked a little more time to revel in the victory. It would be akin to combining the first two Harry Potter books. Harry saves the day at the end of Sorcerer's Stone and then BOOM, gets thrown right into Chamber of Secrets. There would be no time to enjoy the win, and that's what happened in The Enemy. You already had such devastation and heartbreak with the characters who died, and then when the kids left "made it" it was like it was all for nothing. The book was just too long.

Still, I'm going to track down Book 2 in the series later at the library. I care enough about the characters to want to see what happened. I expect, though, that I'll get through the 400 page novel in about an hour, as I'll be skipping most just to get to the good parts. Makes me wish the whole book was edited down to just that (and who knows, maybe the second will be different and achieve that).

Of course I understand a lot of folks enjoyed every word, so I'm not saying it should have all been cut. Merely that the best books I've read have held me through every last word, and the ones that don't reach that level I find myself skimming just to see what happens in the end.

Filed under: Art, Books, Drawing 3 Comments

Free Animation Book

This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest animation books ever written. If you want to do animation in any way shape or form (yeah, even flipbooks in the corner of your Geometry textbook) then you should really check it out. And this month Animator Island is giving away a copy for free. So if you're inclined (I know we have a few animators around here) stop by the island and check it out. A winner could be you.

In other news, there is no other news. So, until next time!



WAHOO! It's a new year!

I'm extremely excited, because with a new year comes a fresh start and infinite possibilities. Truthfully every DAY holds such things, but there's a magical quality about January 1st that really drives a sense of potential for me. I spent the day watching football and writing my To Do in 2012 list!

I started this now tradition last year after reading the book Good to Great. It's a great study, though it can be a little dry in places. Nevertheless it says to make goals for the year and then even if you change your plans to hold yourself to that list when the end of the year comes along. As I mentioned last week, I didn't achieve a lot of my previous goals. But that's alright, they gave me a great marker to set THIS year's plan. What all does it entail? I'm glad you asked!

A few of the goals for 2012:

-Fill 1 Sketchbook per month with Life Drawing Practice. I actually had this goal on my list last year, but fell short by about seven sketchbooks. That's because I wasn't well prepared and I kind of hated drawing most of last year. Now, though, I love sketching because I've gotten a little bit better at it. Still a long, long way to go, but I'm happy to see improvements. So here's hoping the second time is the charm and I fulfill this goal this go around.

-Introduce Claire and Melvin to FtM. Maybe sooner than you'd think. *whistles innocently*

-Kickstarter a certain unnamed project. I'll be able to discuss this more once I work out a few more details and get things rolling. Maybe in April or May. I hope you'll look forward to that announcement then!

-1 Hour of New Animation at Last year my goal was TWO hours of new stuff, but I fell short of that by an hour and a half. I don't think it's unreasonable to shoot for 60 minutes of new Fred stuff this year. Of course, I said back in October that my goal was "One New Cartoon in Season 8" and I already achieved that, so just ignore this goal! Pretend I didn't say anything... An hour of what? Who? *cough*

-Release 1st Studio short (and website for Studio). This is probably one of the toughest goals I've set for myself, but I'm determined to make it happen. Even if that short is terrible, I want to say I accomplished it, and then I can move on to a better 2nd short using all I learned from the first!

I have others, but those are the really big ones I think. I'm anticipating getting started on the whole list in the coming week, knowing I have a whole year to tackle them. It feels very freeing!

Anyone else have any cool goals for the new year? I'd love to hear about them. Maybe we can all remind each other to keep on track and by the end of 2012 we'll have a ton of work accomplished!


Space Chicken’s Character Bio

The Character Page over at has received an update and it's of good ol' SC!

Work continues on the next big Fred cartoon (though slowly) as well as another new addition to the website coming in late December/early January. I hope everyone will look forward to it.

In personal news, I am reading through One Piece for the second time via the local library's collection of manga. It's fun to go back to the start with this series, because honestly I enjoyed it a whole lot more pre-Grand-Line than post. I feel like the little story arcs moved quicker and better before then, though it's still entertaining.

I've especially been admiring the drawings. The author does a great job at some crazy perspective work, and it's amazing that 99% of it is done in flat color, just black and white! Many manga/comics use screen tone for shading, but One Piece is done with cross hatching and line work. Beautiful stuff.

Also here's a little link for my animator comrades out there. Kenny Roy has released some of his articles for free (normally member-only) and the ones on Motivation are especially nifty. Check it out!

Have a terrific weekend.