Life, Art, and Monkeys
26Apr/16Off

Movin!

Well, given how infrequently I update this ol' personal blog, I think it's about time I moved things over to JKRiki.com permanently. It's updated every Monday, after all! Plus I'm going to be upgrading it in the next few months to include links to other spots I hang out online, such as my new digs at Instagram. If you're looking for me in the meantime, check over here!

Zipping over to JKRiki.com!

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8Feb/16Off

A Year of the Monkey Message

I've recorded a Year of the Monkey message for you all, and you can locate it here.

Happy Year of the Monkey. :)

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7Feb/16Off

Fact of the Day

Tomorrow is the first day of a new Year of the Monkey.

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29Jan/16Off

Can you go home again?

House_exterior_fall

If you're a Creativity Newsletter subscriber at JKRiki.com you already heard this story, so forgive me for repeating it. Recently I realized the Year of the Monkey is fast approaching, which means it's been 12 years or so since Fred the Monkey and company hit the Internet.

I really wanted to do something to celebrate. Yet I've been out of the "game" so long that I had no idea where to start. Well, I did have an idea where to start, but the sheer work involved was overwhelming. At any rate, I hope to at least make a little "happy year of the monkey" video message to send to everyone. It won't be animated, but hey, it... um... *trails off muttering*

I got a comment from D Shwizzle (bet you 10 bucks that's an alias) on the blog the other day, reminiscing about the olden days. It was a great little pick me up that came at just the right time. I had been feeling a little down about the abandonment of FtM considering I wouldn't have a new cartoon for the Year of the Monkey in a week or so. A reminder that it was there for people while I used to do it was a nice boost.

Those days are gone, and while I'm still interested in doing the occasional Fred cartoon (someday, which I hope I live to see) it's nice to revisit the memories. As I fired up Flash and stared at the old FtM House Background Asset, I returned for a moment to times when my days were filled with Fred work. I must admit, it was a much more stressful, difficult time, but there were bright spots too.

I hope everyone is set to have a great Year of the Monkey in 2016, and I'll keep you posted if I manage to get anything together to celebrate the occasion! Maybe I can do a piece of Fred art, at least. Though... sometimes illustration is more work than a whole cartoon, ha ha.

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24Jun/15Off

Past Archives Begin Here

Caution sign
Please note: Posts here older than June 24th, 2015 should be considered officially archived. I am not removing them, but in the ten years that I have been writing on this blog I have changed a great deal. Things beyond this point should be considered outdated at best, and may contain many errors or opinions I no longer hold. These things tend to happen as you grow and live life. Or at least, they hopefully happen as you try to become a better person as you age! I just want readers to be aware of that, so that if you decide to go poking through history you will know that it doesn't necessarily reflect my current or future views. :)

 

If you'd like current thoughts and posts, please visit JKRiki.com for regular scheduled updates that provide better insights and information. Thanks!

JKRiki.com

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13Mar/15Off

The Thrilling Conclusion

Yesterday on THE BLOG:

JK discussed his latest novel, or WAIT, WAS IT? The mystery! The intrigue! The unnecessary forced blog-cliffhangers!

And now, the thrilling conclusion...

The reason that the question of "what is a 10,000 word book considered" no longer needs an answer is that the book is no longer 10,000 words. Surprise! It's probably the reason you guessed the second you finished the last blog post. But what if it hadn't been? You had to come back, just to be sure. And now you're here and I can sell you a set of Ginsu knives. Cliffhangers strike again!

Anyway, I sat down to continue writing and found out I had written myself into a corner. For non-writers, that's when you're cheerfully plugging away at your book and suddenly you have absolutely no idea what to write next. It was the first time I've ever found myself in such a situation (likely because prior to this I would ignore the feeling and force more words on the page like it or not) so I scratched my head and turned to the answer to everything and nothing: The Internet.

First I researched salons. The scene, you see, took place in a salon, and I was stuck because I didn't know what the conversation that needed to take place would be like. Every year I get two haircuts, one in spring and one in fall. I call them haircuts, but more so they are the ritual shaving of my head. It's great because it takes about six months for things to get to the point where I nearly have a ponytail and can't stand it anymore. Rinse, repeat. Because of this, I don't hang out in a lot of salons.

WELL! Go do some research on "salon conversations" and you'll find a secret world you wish you never found out about. There are BOOKS written on holding salon conversations. One site had a detailed explanation of what kind of person you were to your very soul based on what you talked about at the salon.

I was in over my head.

Switching tactics, I put into the search box "wrote into a corner" and Google graciously expanded to the common search of "I wrote myself into a corner now what." See, this is something authors go through often enough to get a Google auto-fill-in.

There were a lot of suggestions. The most common was "delete everything you just wrote and start over." That's really painful, but often necessary. In this case, this was my first draft so it wasn't the time to delete things. Instead I picked the option "Just keep going and come back later to fix things." Perfect advice for a first draft.

It turns out I used a bit of both, actually. I deleted two sentences so that it didn't seem to just end at a random spot. Then I proceeded to the next chapter (a different character) and the next thing I knew it had all worked itself out. The conversation I had planned took place "off camera" and I picked up the story after it was over. It worked beautifully! Thanks, Internet!

That's all a sidebar of sorts, because the whole point I am trying to make is the story ended up going in a very unexpected direction and when I looked up it was five hours later and the word count was hovering around 17,000 words. All of them telling the story, mind you, but just not the story I planned to write. The story essentially told ME what was going to happen, and I just wrote it down. This is my favorite sort of storytelling, and what happens a lot when I write Fred cartoons. The characters, who are as alive to me as anybody, just live as I type and do what they would do in any given situation. I don't think "Now Fred would say THIS" so much as Fred says what Fred would say and I record it. I am very happy when this happens. If my brain says "Fred wouldn't say that" then I know I got in the way and I need to step aside and let Fred be Fred.

So all said and done (if there are no more detours) the book will be somewhere in the twenty-thousand word range, and I will have on my hands an official novel. No need to question what to call it, thank you very much.

Actually, I still need to question what to call it, because I have zero ideas for a title. Ah well, I trust it will work itself out somehow!

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5Mar/15Off

The End of Parks and Recreation

I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here, in case anyone hasn't seen the final episode of Parks and Rec. I'll do my best.

I was very torn, watching the final episode of Parks and Recreation. What has been my favorite show for the past five or six years was finally coming to a close, and the feeling was very bittersweet. Extra bitterness came from the fact that they cut things to a final HALF-season instead of a full one, and that most of the half-season was spent as a very "well obviously this is ending so let's close things up" sort of way. I understand the why of this choice, but I'd frankly have rather had another "real" season. One that was not clearly written with the intention of providing the "final episode with that guy who starts chants at the public forums (etc)." It was great to see the classic support characters one last time, but it was so painfully obvious that they were written there just TO be there one last time. It came across as forced 99% of the time.

What didn't come across as forced was the series finale episode. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the greatest series finale I have ever seen in my life.

It's very difficult to judge something as "perfect" and I hate to even use that word in our world of imperfection, but the finale of Parks and Rec was probably as close to perfect as a show could have. It was sweet, it was fun, and it provided nearly absolute happy-ending closure for every character the audience had grown to love over nearly a decade. It could have been a one-episode final season and if that was the episode, it would still have been nearly perfect. Storytelling brilliance, even with gimmicky flash-forwards. It was beautiful.

I don't know how FtM will eventually end (if I ever get around to having a solid ending) but I hope it's half as amazing as the end of Parks and Rec. It will be what I now strive towards on any series I work on. Bravo, Parks and Rec crew, you just produced a clinic for how to complete a story that's gone on for such a long period of time. Thanks for all the laughs and joy.

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27Feb/15Off

The Top 10 Things I Learned from 10 Years Animating

Last Friday I did a guest post for TMTF on the Top 10 Things I Learned from 10 Years Animating. I'd have posted it here sooner, but as you may know I write these posts a week or two in advance at the moment. Anyway, please go check it out and if you have any thoughts, leave a comment! (I'm turning the comments off on this post so that if someone wants to chat about this, we can do so over there, as a nice change of scenery.)

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5Feb/15Off

SC at Caesar’s Palace

A good friend of mine went to Vegas and took SC along for the ride! Here he is with the legendary Caesar's Palace in the background. To my knowledge SC didn't gamble much while there (that's more Sceb and Fred's cup of tea) but I'm sure he enjoyed the sights and nice warm weather.

Back when the stuffed space chickens debuted on the FtM Shop I actually planned to create an interactive map of the world where people could submit photos of SC in different locales and everything would be logged. Would have been fun!

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2Feb/15Off

Winter 2015 Q&A Answers

Last Friday I asked for any questions readers might have in order to answer them for today's blog update, so let's get right to it!

Jordo says:

Yay, Q&A! I guess I’ll keep it simple. How have you been? How’s life? How’s Q doing? I hope all is well. :)

I've been fine, thanks for asking! :)

I could probably go on for quite some time given the subject of "how life is" but I'll keep it simple as well. Life is good, I'm appreciating the time I have here and for whatever reason am currently extremely enthusiastic about rolling up my sleeves and getting some work done. Probably because it's been so long since I had an office to settle into for the long haul. Q is doing well (for those of you who don't know, Q is my wife) and since her appendix surgery last year it seems like she's been healthy and focused on work. I've been trying to get her to help with some non-work projects, but I feel bad about bugging her when she has so many deadlines at her actual job!

How about you? All well on your front in the cold frozen tundras of Ohio?

Side note: Since Jordo included his website in his login, I'm linking to it here should you like to stop by and see what's happening on his corner of the Internet.

Mike Hearn says:

Here’s a Q for you to A, my twitter debate partner: 2 3D mixed animation. It is VERY common place now. Every 2 show uses it for vehicle and the like. It has come a long way, but I still think it sticks out like a sore thumb. What do you think of it?

I think the combination of 2D and 3D animation is a great technological step for the medium. As you said, the issue is when they don't play nicely together. It's curious, because clearly it CAN work beautifully (Disney has used it fantastically over the years, and even in smaller budget projects like Futurama they manage to nail the blending of the two styles). One has to wonder, why doesn't everyone create this unity well? Why do some shows have it sticking out like a sore thumb, as you said?

I think partly it's because animators fail to understand much of the magic of 2D comes in the imperfection of the human hand. Computers are perfect (in the mathematical sense) so when they render something, it is exactly 100% spot on. Humans can't be perfect. (Which in my opinion can spark a wonderful, deeper discussion, but we'll leave that for another time! :) ) In order to properly blend 2D and 3D, the CGI done by a computer needs "roughed up" in a way. It needs to be imperfect so it blends with the rest of the lovely, hand-crafted imperfect animation around it. Many studios simply skip this step. As a result, you get the obvious 2D vs. obvious 3D without the appealing blend of both.

It's really important animators understand where 2D excels and where 3D reigns supreme. Both are great for certain applications, and rather lousy for others. When you use the strengths of each, and keep in mind the limitations so they can be blended well, that's when you can have a magical marriage of both styles.

Of course, in the old days before CG animators did the cars and complex ships or whatever by hand, and in my opinion they did a DANG good job of it. There's something to be said for the epic quality of CG water, for example, but give me the hand-drawn end sequences of Pinocchio any day.

Besides being my "twitter debate partner" (we have conversations that are much deeper than most people jam into 140 character bursts) Mike is also author and artist of webcomic Walter the Wicked, which you can see here.

Wegra says:

So what kind of animations will we see in 2015?

Are you asking in general, or specifically from me? :) I'll put the less egotistical answer first: 2015 is shaping up to be a very fine year for animation it seems. You have new films from Pixar and Dreamworks (more than one a piece), plus the Minions have their own feature and the CG Peanuts looks better than I would have expected. There will be plenty of other things from smaller (or at least, less known) studios as well. Hopefully the market doesn't get over saturated this year, because there are an awful lot of animated films on the horizon!

As for my own production, it really remains to be seen. I'm currently working on a short animated test that a fellow animator gave me as a challenge to show him my very best work. You see, I've never truly tried 100% at a finished animated clip, and we both thought it would be interesting to see where my skill level topped out. In the past I've been more concerned with either getting things finished (ie. Fred cartoons) or doing rough tests (like this one). This test will be a chance to put all my skill into play and see where I currently stand. I don't expect the drawing to be phenomenal (that's currently what's holding me back, mostly) but I am hopeful the movement will be pretty top notch. Guess we'll see! (The reason I've never tried 100% is because I have no use for a demo reel, which is where most animators will put things they make in order to show off their maximum competency. Since I have no use for a reel [given I own my own studio and am not looking for a job] I have never actually taken the time to polish something to "as good as I can possibly make it." This will be an experience!)

Beyond that I would love to say I'll have a new FtM cartoon this year, but I just don't know. I also may be working with Ferdinand on an animated short, but given that we want it to be full hand-drawn 2D of a high level, there's really no way to tell if that will be ready in 2015 or take longer. Hand drawn animation of top quality takes a LONG TIME. Much longer than you'd ever expect... Probably why so few people do it these days.

Plus I'd like to give another shot at the 11 Second Club one of these months. If I can manage to squeeze it in! Most of my time early on this year will be working on the book I'm finishing to publish and also really learning Toon Boom Animate Pro well. It's slow going, this animation thing I've chosen to dedicate my life to! :)

CJVanNice says:

Alright, I have a couple of questions for ya,

1. While Fred is on hiatus for a while, I’m interested what your process was for making the cartoons was. Did you have a vague game plan of what the next few episodes were going to be, or did you make them roughly as you came up with them.

2. Have you had a chance to watch the Netflix series VeggieTales in the House? While it’s clearly aimed for a young audience, the 3D animation is, in my opinion anyway, kinda impressive, using lots of squash and stretch and being usually quite fluid. I figured you might want to take a look if you haven’t already.

3. What was your favorite animated film you saw in 2014?

1. That's a terrific question! Most of the time I had a pretty steady plan for the general direction, and then added things as I went. For example, I know the general story of the next few episodes (whenever they end up being made) but if something else springs to mind I'll make a detour and do that instead.

Overall, my process was to come up with a joke of some kind and then build an episode around it. Sometimes I would have a storyline instead, and have to jam jokes into it and try to make it as humorous as possible while still sticking with the plot I wanted to put in. Almost all FtM cartoons started as a script of just text, and progressed from there.

Later on in the years I would do storyboards before jumping into the animation itself. This was a great change for me, because if you're going to do animation it REALLY pays to do storyboards first. Highly, highly recommended.

I also know how the series "ends." But alas, I doubt we'll ever see that episode because there are so many stories I'd like to tell with the characters first. :)

2. I have not! I don't have Netflix, so that's probably why, but should I have access to it this year I will add that to my list of things to check out. Thanks for the recommendation!

I do have several Silly Songs with Larry on my go-to playlist of random songs. "Endangered Love" just came on last week as I was cruising down the highway in the car. Speaking of which, I really need to add His Cheeseburger to my phone...

3. I'd probably have to go with The Lego Movie. Thoroughly enjoyed that from start to finish! Unless we're talking about ANY movie I watched, in which case possibly Lilo and Stitch for the 7th time. 😉

Actually I'm curious what other folks' answer to that question would be. So if you have a moment, let me know what YOUR favorite animated film was of 2014. It would be great for me to hear what and why as an animator, so while I work on my own animations I can keep these things in mind. No point in me making animations no one would want to watch, right?

Thanks so much!

I really appreciate everyone who wrote in questions so I wasn't just showing up Monday with nothing to answer, ha ha. I hope it has been informative and/or entertaining. I'd like to do this again, so perhaps in a few months when the snow melts I can do the "Spring 2015 Q&A" huh? We'll see!

In the meantime, it's back to the regular blog post updates tomorrow, which as a reminder go live at 12:01AM. (And as always, if anyone has questions or comments BETWEEN the Q&A posts, never hesitate to leave them in the comments, I read them all and check to see if there are new ones about 17 times a day. 😛 )

PS. In case you didn't know, it's Groundhog Day today so let's go eat a groundhog.

 

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