Saturday, September 27, 2014

Settling In: LA Part 2 of 3

Settling in: LA Part 2 of 3.

A shift of tide is at first imperceptible. Retrospect observes the collected shades that all at once allow you notice the passing of months and years. My shift was the loss of that new car smell. LA all at once left the realm of the fresh and entered the realm of the familiar. The Chuck Jones retrospective marked the end of those first crucial days in LA. It marked the separation between the first endless week and the year that has passed as quickly since. Now I stretched my legs and began to explore the city.

I finally finished that childhood quarter map.

Our first Thanksgiving spread, complete with cactus.

 The arrival of "the familiar" brought with it the comforts of ritual. One thousand plus movies had collected in an online list. Recommendations from friends, family, best-of compilations, awards nominations, and pop culture references helped grow the list to the mountainous que that it is today. An online number generator selected between one and one thousand, I found that number on the movie list, and Netflix delivered the DVD. Each Wednesday night the roommates and I gathered around a communally prepared meal, and basked in the unpredictable excitement of a randomly chosen film. Movie theater rules applied- no talking, no laptops, no phones, no lights, no pause breaks. We watched with the absorbed respect of a theater audience, from the comfort our living room's tiny auditorium. Thursday nights were spent at drawing club. Comic artists, toy makers, storyboarders, amateurs, concept painters, and practical effects gurus made up the odd collection of industry adjacent artists.Our meeting spot was the Republic of Pie, which holds every bit of majesty such a title implies. It was one of those unexplainable structures larger inside than out. The Republic of Pie opened into a tall, couch filled lounge connecting to deeper caverns by narrow hallways. Walls of windows into the the kitchen interrupted the lounge, and ran alongside long glass cases of pies, which then became the order counter, which flowed to the barista station, and emptied like a river delta into the main lounge. An amphitheater of couches, bars, and tables surround the one step main stage- complete with the additional nooks and alcoves necessary for a good coffee house. A rotation of live music played to the college students, writers, and loafers that kept the place abuzz at all open hours. Past the main room lies a final, low slung, cave. The back room was insulated by the heavy density of antique furniture and the dim, warm glow of low lighting. At a long table, in this furthest crevice did I spend my Thursday nights. I'd soon come to call this eclectic group of artists my new friends. They'd take me to their favorite city spots on weekends. Little Tokyo consisted of an outdoor square surrounded by floors of spiraling balconies. Costumed high schoolers loitered in front of Japanese comic shops dressed like cartoon characters. Inks and sketching pens could be bought cheap next door to intricate geometric pastries resembling neatly wrapped presents. The menu at the top floor ramen house was ordered by level of spice. Our roommate Uriah is one of those skinny guys that could put away a Cadillac. He also has a Texas bred resistance to spice. Groups of onlookers argued in foreign tongues about Uriah's chances in the curry challenge. Both a spice and quantity challenge, the ramen was a hearty cauldron's worth of scorching pepper broth. Boiling, evil snarls of noodle water bubbled from the enormous bowl. Meanwhile, burly, pink faced, viking-shaped men dropped like flies around us, forfeiting the challenge. Uriah's skin took on the color spectrum as he pushed on. Three quarters through the bowl Uriah excused himself to return a solid gallon of liquid to the restaurant's porcelain. There were no rules up front about such a stipulation, and we pressed him to further damage his stomach. With doubly burning throat, he choked down the remainder of the hellwater. Uriah then took his rightful seat on the throne of fame.

Uriah's hall of fame polaroid.

I took some liberties with a subway sketch.

Sometime's we'd visit mom and pop bakeries and gourmet coffee shops. Suspended glass bowls, interconnected by means of weaving tubes, pumped carefully measured bursts of ground espresso blends. Equipment hissed and shrouded one side of the counter in steam. The rich, dark liquid spiraled from three sets of glass tubes into the final basin of Dr. Frankenstein's chemistry set. Finely crafted froth was sculpted with care by these coffee artisans. Our drinks looked like magazine spreads and tasted like wildflowers, but I'll take a cup of diner black any day. There's a strip of old Burbank with year round Halloween stores to cater to the costumed obsessed culture of LA. Room after room of gothic books and dense costumes  awaited past the blackout window drapes. Down the road, charming wooden houses were converted to blocks of vintage clothing and boutiques. Italian bistros offered seating sections within enormous, side laying wine barrels. The novelty soda shop supplied my fix for cane sugar favorites in glass bottles. And there were always new delicious and bizarre attempts to flavor pops things like cotton candy and apple pie. There's a strip of old Pasadena with brick walkways through the unadorned, crisp three story simplicity of a mid sized 1920's town square.  Slaters 50/50 offers intricately crafted burgers and pop rock milkshakes. Work in Hollywood meant lunch outings under modernist paintings, featuring tiny sculptural dishes as expensive as they are delicious. Most of this junk food was portioned out for special occasions. Produce in LA was fresh, abundant, and cheap compared to NYC. The grocery store across from the apartment reflected this. Neon Spanish signs labeled the departments, which themed like a village marketplace under individual tiled awnings. Palm trees sprouted from various sections to complete the ambiance.

Animation inspired by my grocery store's lush bakery.

I continue to get mileage out of this suit, here I am at work on Cosmos.

 I put great effort into keep myself focused on the eccentric, fun aspects of the city, lest I slip into my native cynicism. Even with all the activity, it became impossible to overlook the sprawl and desperation of the place.

Sketches from the plane.
Subway sketches

The plane ride into California showed me the truth of what the path by roads hoped to hide. Descent towards LAX showed passing patches of red mountains and arid brown vegetation that clung to life. I waited for green, for the type of climate to support the rows of trees and golf courses proudly displayed on television. From the ground, the strategically planned lawns and palm trees disguised the fact that the green never really showed up. LA is the only landscape I've ever seen which the city planning wears a mask. It continually reminded me of the simultaneous and contradictory notion always in effect: It was both the prettiest and ugliest place I'd ever been. The street, elevation, and time of day dictated the coin toss. But, it was more than the duality of the terrain itself that built in me a sense of dread.  Every town has a handful of construction workers, janitors and baristas that hate their jobs. This city is the only place I know of where the construction workers, janitors, and baristas felt promised something more. A glaze of naive optimism coats the newcomer. Then, the pained smile of pretended optimism takes its place. Eventually, in the final stage of indoctrination, they form camps. The first camp is camp crazy. Almost everyone here is a little cracked. Some are out and out disabled. Even the most highly functioning, intelligent people eventually reveal the chinks in their own armor. There was a study done on a group of mice that were electroshocked. One group was shocked at regular intervals, after a sound cue. Another was shocked at random, sometimes in conjunction with the sound cue, sometimes without warning. Lets call them group B. The stress and unpredictability of the shock rendered the B mice anxious and unstable, shortening their lives. Even shocking B less often than the control group did little to correct their health. This is life in LA. We are all group B. An endless series of disappointments, even among the occasionally successful, take their tole on the human psyche. Never have a been in a place where so many dazed lunatics wander the streets and eat toothpaste on the floor of public libraries. Nor have I been in a place were so many well spoken professionals break into delusion and hysteria over some unpredictable, obscure topic. Otherworldly vibes support conversations that don't track, and I've come to give the phenomena nicknames like sunshine poisoning and California sickness.

Sketches of Californians.

 We are all of us, running from the drifting shade of that storm cloud insanity. Many take refuge in camp two- the jaded. When energy and expectation is gone, you may drop the front of optimism for one of bitterness. This is my leaning, which, however unpopular, allows the wearer to keep their full sanity. Balancing optimism and disappointment is a trying exercise, relenting notions of meritocracy, it is much easier to keep your wits about you. Finally, there are the people who refuse to be bitter or delusional, cracked or cynical. The third camp is a large one- those who leave, who give up. Never have I existed in a place so surrounded by broken dreams. For those who can afford it, the landscape itself, which hopes to be more than a dessert, achieves its goal in lucky patches. Tired cliches about the city full of "fakes" has more to do with the way people falsely cling to hope than the bleached blonde insincerity with which the city is labeled. I've heard far less from pompous big shots than from overcompensating hopefuls. Distribution of success is simply too one sided to represent the city's temperament. The sprawl of highways and dessert plants, neon all night dinners, seven elevens, rotating, star shaped bowling alley signs, and tropically decorated apartment complexes push everyone into their own spotlit islands. We all live impossibly far away from each other and everything. There is too much road to light all of the street by night. All destinations sit alone behind some huge, empty parking lot and its single, flickering, streetlamp. It is both a vibrant and lonely place, the stark black of night made more apparent by that incredible brightness of day. My best efforts to capture the alien tone of this planet are summarized in this painting of my neighborhood liquor store:

This isolated, glowing, liquor store clown, although huge in scale, is tiny and endlessly buzzing against the infinite expanse of desert night. At once he is tragic, funny, strange, and deeply fascinating.

Some animation I did on Cosmos.

It was time for a break from LA.

Film festivals often pay some combination of room and board, offering what amounts to an extremely cheap vacation. This usually requires you win a prize in the festival, and luckily, that hard fought senior film of mine had done just that. There were even options. The dust had not altogether settled from the jump to LA, and a trip to Romania seemed exhausting on my tight work schedule. So off I went to South Dakota. Rural and cold felt inviting after all that brightness. It was impossible to overlook the change in light from the moment I left the Sioux Falls airport. Even in sunshine the world outside of LA sat under a heavy lidded dimmer. Values of day and night existed in the soft grey scale I grew up in, instead the harsh, film noir contrast of California . Light felt smoother, rounded, and less urgent. Student festival volunteers hailed with a "Walzel" sign, then drove me through rainy, brown Winter hills. It was good to feel cold again. Films played to a handful of festival goers nestled in the small auditorium of the town college. The theater and surrounding community gave the cozy impression of wrapped layers, huddled in shelter against the cold hardened rain.  Filmmakers answered questions and were awarded handmade prizes from the comfort of the assembled living room at the front of the stage. Dinner was at the Festival Curator's home. The cottage like two story lived on a wet, curbless, tree lined street. There the transition from asphalt to yard was blurred by leaves and soft, sloping transition of the old road. Groups of filmmakers talked, scattered on the carpeted living room floor of the old house. Stew and other such warm foods complimented the selection of Autumn beers. The days we spent at nearby attractions. Cross boarder drives featured native american soap stone carvers, and blue plate specials at Midwestern dinners. Art museums were stocked with community art, and the Interactive Science Center featured a full scale, robotic T-Rex. The festival and my trip came soon to an end. I returned glad to have been out of the sun for a while.

Drawing at the rock quarry in South Dakota. 

Sketches from a Minnesota diner.

Minnesota diner pie.

Sketches from the plane ride home.

I still escaped whenever possible. Holidays marked my return to Texas, for one of the most happily uneventful visits in recent memory. I hid what were ongoing and then worsening daily headaches. A long Winter vacation allowed a road trip north to the pointed desert spikes of the Devil's Punchbowl. What I thought was going to be a dainty nature hike quickly turned into a dangerous rock climb. This was the first in a long line of underestimations in the boundless energy of my friend Alex. Highlighting the climb was a swing across a collapsing dirt path on the weak, overhanging root formation. We narrowly cleared the sliding, 30 foot drop over the up-angled knife rocks below. Past the remainder of the valley's crater, I collapsed in the back seat of the car. Bumping, disturbed sleep jostled me through sleepy thoughts of "home." Brooklyn had now worn off, and a life in Texas felt a lifetime ago. Complaints and all, LA is where I now placed those thoughts of "home."

Alex, a tiny speck, at the Devil's Punchbowl.

A painting for an X-files show.

Part 3 of 3 next week.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

First Impressions of an Alien Planet- LA part 1 of 3

Introduction: Documenting the feeling of life as experienced has long been more important than any precise biographical map. A narrative diary therefore needs a dramatically satisfying resolution. The time line involved seems to imply a coming of age story, and the arguably successful break into adulthood an appropriate chapter's end.  This is the first of a three part post about Los Angeles. I thank you for whatever part of the last five years you spent with my writing. With appreciation for your continued interest, please enjoy this blog as it comes to a close.

It was bright, the brightest place I'd ever been. There've been hotter- Summertime Texas, and even the relentless, air-condition deprived New York Augusts. But the white flash-bang of sky and concrete was its own- a new spectrum of light. This first stage of disorientation to established this entirely foreign world. The bus picked up myself and the roommates, friends from Pratt, in a vacant ocean of parking lot. We barred past neat rows of colorful houses dipping in and out of artificially green neighborhood hills. I'd forgotten about the one story stretch of infinite restaurant chains and automotive stores from my home state. We passed diamond shaped rotating burger shop signs and pathetic, out of place palm trees. Dust billowed along our footpaths as we marched, brave ambassadors to this scorched foreign planet. The first few days felt like wilderness survival. Bank accounts relayed our stock of supplies and we accessed how long we could survive without jobs, shelter, or transportation. These items, and anything else requiring trans-state communication, where next to forbidden for those not within the boarders of city limits. Months were spent in vague and unpromising email conversation with landlords and potential employers. They would rather us in the city destitute than outside it prepared. I assumed they wanted to ensure we could withstand the radioactive, eye splitting glow before agreeing to business. Brendan, an NYC ex pat from Pratt, picked us up and let us sleep on his floor. Brendan gave us three days before his next round of visitors transplanted us from floor guests to become the homeless lurkers in the migrating shade of every in and out burger. Desperate, disorientating, and exhilarating, the first week felt longer than any time since. Brendan's living room sheltered us in air conditioning and wifi while we sent out the next wave of job emails using his LA address. A round of similar emails were re-sent to the apartment managers. Within minutes the months of fortification melted, and gave way to available meeting times that same day. The morning in New York, made apparent in the afternoon Californian's tendency to drag their feet, especially for non locals. Popcorn bought at 7:35 for a 7:30 movie was dropped in a kernel at a time. A group of fresh college grads, post credit check, awaiting only a yes or no decision an apartment, took a leisurely, ambling three months to "consider." I wondered if the sunshine poisoning or the accessibility of grass was to blame for the toxically lethargic pace. An incredible stroke of luck presented a job interview in walking distance, a rarity in the obscenely expansive city. The roommates headed towards an apartment, and I towards a job. We hoped to reconvene with reason to celebrate.

Our first day in LA, minus Uriah, outside Brendan's apartment.

Blinded, I stumbled the streets of Hollywood with my hand drawn map. Even the relatively humble animation studios apparently sat behind intimidating, ivy covered iron gates. The Hollywood sign looked down on me from the end of the the street as I stood like an idiot at the car entrance gate of the studio. I felt sheepish and cursed that glorified real estate advertisement turned worldwide icon, a fitting symbol, in 45 foot letters, for Hollywood's promise of accidental success. A buzz, and I entered with what felt like Hail Mary odds. The alchemy of timing, a hard fought senior film, and experience that looked deceptively impressive in resume form bought me the job. It was a promotion from my New York position, and at nearly thrice the pay. A side story is needed to describe the true mathematical alignment of this event. Some of you may remember my high school job. The Angelika in Plano Texas is an independent, art house movie theater. Projectionists screened the new movies the night before they premiered to test for imperfections in the film print. Invitations began to circulate among the staff to join, which began after the theater closed, when the screens were vacant. A stroke of inspiration in the discovery of the DVD converter transformed this occasional and pragmatic task, into private movie parties. Around midnight, our shift was over. Leftover popcorn was dumped into large plastic bags, thermoses and spare cups were filled with fountain soda, and the huge auditorium in theater one was prepped for viewing. Our personal collections brought the classics of cinema alive across 60 foot screens. Only one TV show entered the lineup, and became an unexpected favorite. Carl Sagan's 1980's scientific documentary series, Cosmos. My childhood fascination with space and astronomy was given a new life. The 13 part documentary was elevated to magic in the unforgettable scale and vacancy of this lush auditorium. Three AM drives home led to 9 AM crawl through high school Spanish the following days. But there was always too the lasting tingle of a secret experience. I felt the privileged access to a world unknown to my classmates.  Cosmos has a special place in my heart for the introduction to an existence that would become my life- late nights, a love of television, and the sanctity of the big screen. Moments into my LA interview I realized I was being offered- a job on the new Cosmos. It was slated to air on FOX, starring one of the world's most famous scientist, and produced by a well known TV/animation producer. I wondered on my walk home how well my roommates fared, and if I'd be the first homeless person with a full time position on a major network show.

Our living room in its early stage.

We got the apartment. We moved in that night. The next several days I slept on the blank floor of my apartment by night. By day I was ushered, with the guided enthusiasm of co-workers, through a swirling, surreal rush of social gatherings. Our timing into LA was fortuitous, and most nights after work were spent in the back of someone's car, zipping past city lights. West Hollywood nights were a mix of tacky and charming neon. Block after block of dinners, clubs, and theater houses beckoned patrons with glowing bursts that jumped from the dense blackness of the LA night. Arrows danced in cycles across thousand bulb boards. Canter's deli held a birthday dinner for a new work pal. The place was almost a set from the kitsch, old-modern diner in a Tarantino film. High ceilings broke with the irregular roofs of the abstract architecture, split into tiles freckling off colored squares down the walls and across the floor. Past glass cases of pies and cakes, tight passes pinched the rooms into deep set, cave like sections. We took to the streets afterwards towards the one screen independent cinema house- The Silent Movie Theater. An animated group showing here, dubbed the Late Night Work Club, housed a collection of my artistic heroes, in town for one night only. They didn't disappoint in their art or their conversation. Tomorrow came and work again buzzed with early weekend exit traffic while the clock raced for 5. The social tide swept me out the doors and into the basement of LA's biggest comic shop for the screening of a micro-animation competition known as LoopDeLoop. Free beer and over stimulation gave the one-two punch for a spinning head.

Saturday morning I made up the time lost through my many social departures and the inexperience that kept me slow. Momentum formed, and a few solitary hours without distraction almost caught me up to speed. The sunblock smell arrived before the cases of alcohol and the work-friends carrying them. My tenure felt too green to turn down social invitations- and so I caught a ride to the BBQ. LA's more scenic neighborhoods began at fertile, ivy covered hills. Houses dotted the ebb and flow of rising elevation atop lush, steep, diagonal lawns. These stretched from rolling sidewalks to front doors sitting 20 feet above. High, narrow stairs parted seas of forested yard to reveal the opening to shady, concealed porches. Our destination was high, a vantage point that watched the the cafes and bookstores dip smoothly in and out of the gently rolling hills below. Vines and trees spilled into residential back roads from the lush, overgrown vibrancy of backyard forests. Through parting leans of trees you could spot orange beams of sunset streaking across the entirety of LA below. It is decidedly both the most beautiful and hideous place I've ever been. This moment presented more strongly the case for beauty.

That same weekend I began for the first time to notice a daily and unexplained morning headache. I'd recover by noon, and make it to the premiere of my studio's first feature film. The momentum of constant social occasion began to fume and churn up a haze, this first ever red carpet event only contributing kindling to the bonfire. Finally the breakneck pace slowed to a breathable density over the coming days. Recovery from the onslaught meant the roots of tradition. Quiet, important ritual began forming with the roommates. My path to the studio was worked out. Grocery lists began to have a rotation. Near the end of my first week, there was leisure, and even boredom to be dealt with. Kayla and I took the subway towards a Chuck Jones retrospective at The Egyptian Theater. That seemed to be the way it was- parties, screenings, get-togethers, diners, meetings, and events were an arm's reach away at all times of the day and night. The Looney Tunes never disappoint, especially when so finely curated. Well versed historians gave palette cleansing lecture between gourmet entrees of Bugs and Daffy. I basked in the nostalgia of a time before my birth, with Chuck Jones as my guide to a charming chapter in animation's history. My passion for my chosen medium was renewed in the flickering darkness, a few seats down from the historian that wrote my animation textbooks. This marked the last night that time was operating within the surreal constraints of new experience. This marked the last moment when looking back a matter of days would land me in another state, another landscape, another realm of possibility. Differences between the week past and the week present blossomed most heavily at the end of this long chain of events. Changes in geography and perspective called together all at once thoughts of memories unseen and people unmet just one hundred and forty eight hours before. All the force and momentum of change slammed the forefront of my mind, denoting both appreciation, and the end of an era. My introduction to LA was at an end as suddenly as it had started.

Part 2 of 3 Next week.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Life After College

I skipped my last day of school to go to my first day of work. My first career day of work that is, I've been working in grocery stores and movie theaters since I was fifteen. Graduation day I took off work, other than that, college was behind me. Not long after starting, I put in two months notice of my resignation. Conversation with a superior led me to believe there was a long tradition of paying your dues and waiting your turn on the East Coast. I quietly declined this proud tradition by opting to base my career mobility on merit and work ethic in the West Coast. I read my name upon their shit list form the moment I mentioned LA, until the last time I stepped out their door. This means the following account of my first job is probably unfairly dystopian. This also means that there was now a countdown, a timed sprint to revisit and consume as much of the lingering NYC experience as my 10 to 7 job would allow. Unfortunately, this timer also counted down the remaining time to find a job from across the country.

A half buried hole in the Brooklyn Navy Yard was my first home after Pratt. It was the cheapest place I could find- sandwiched three ways between housing projects, an abandoned, rusting naval yard, and the underpass of a huge expressway where lunatics lived in wheel-less cars. Vines weaved in and out of broken windows and haunting echoes called from the ancient, towering ghost town at the end of the street. Cockroaches poured out of light sockets and holes in the kitchen tile. I kept my food and dishes in plastic containers. I took a mile's circuitous route to my front door after a certain time of night. I just kept telling myself LA was on the horizon.

A decent amount if this period was spent in painting in the cockroach free luxury of my friend's apartment.

Titmouse was the place of my first employment. And my first impression: they had upgraded up from the boutique studio of my internship to the multiple floors of a Manhattan skyscraper. The upgrade was in scale alone. A glass, electro-sealed elevator encasement room gave way to the dim, deep set cave. Spiraling downward, the studio was a heaped collection of heavily trinketed cubicles and offices. 9 or more hours of precious, limited NYC daylight were spent in the artificial glow of a computer screen. It was an dark, monitor lit burrow where people stuffed their outside lives. Each workstation was scattered with toys, posters, DVDs, books, figurines, stickers, printouts, stuffed animals, and all the countless other bedazzlements of contemporary nerd culture. Memorabilia from everything anime, comics, cartoons and sci-fi was crammed into those tiny work spaces. The whole building felt like that heavily curtained, vampiric bedroom of your nocturnal Summertime burnout friend from high school. The individual cubby-hole shrines where dotted indents in the cave interior, wrapping corners and spilling downstairs. Below, the most densely populated barracks of the ant colony merged to form one unified hole known as “the pit.” My seat was in the pit. Day after day I worked cleanup- the lowest peg on the artistic totem pole with a barely livable pay to reflect the status. Tracing other artists drawings proved to be less than creatively fulfilling, especially considering the unpaid overtime at the peaks of schedule madness. I wasn't surprised to hear the LA hate speak. I wasn't surprised to hear Veterans, founders, and other long time East Coasters had begun the migration out of the pit. Now that worker ants like myself were making the crawl towards the light, employee leakage and turnover were at an all time high. I could empathize with the panic and the loyalty. But I can also empathize with sunshine and a non hostile work environment. The judgmental passing remarks only served to reaffirm my decision.

My final appreciations of that New York vibe.

Bonding with my fellow dregs and interns of the pit formed a trench comrade. We'd time passing bosses to duck out undetected a bit early and catch the train uptown. Starring out the front window of a subway car feels like riding the world's largest mine train. A spotlight parts the sea of passing black- sending scurrying rats across wobbling tracks, jolting you to and fro with the lumbering body of the steel giant. Rickety beams and irregular side tunnels shoot past, offering unexplainable movement beyond the edge of the light. Our sketchbooks served a map through the Natural History Museum's forest of taxidermy animals, the transition of ecosystem charted in sketchbook ink: bobcat to buffalo to antelope to elephant. Even the endless river of tourist children ever asking "are you drawing?" could not damper the inspiration of the life size fiberglass whale hanging overhead. When our artistic muscles gave way, we'd collapse into a booth at Shake Shack and revel in the champion of fast food.

On ongoing, baseball related story had begun developing.

I used every second of my workday's lunch hour to locate my next job. Companies must fund the move for relocation hires, so they tend to hire locally. It was around this time that I began to lie about my "Glendale, California" address. The plan became to stir up my newly released portfolio among animation circles and hope somebody cared upon my arrival. It was a goofy plan but I had to leave no stone unturned. I produced a lot of artwork attempting online attention. The daily housework of searching for industry jobs without connections was upon me. Monday bought my domain name, Tuesday built my site. Wednesday emailed industry lunch dates. Thursday updated my resume. Friday paid film festival dues and filled entry forms. On went the carefully budgeted weeks, and countless online applications. My still functioning Pratt ID allowed my nights be spent sneaking into the Pratt labs, burning DVDs of my senior film, and sneaking out before the faculty spotted me. Lunch allowed my noons be spent mailing those DVDs to film festivals. I lived in line at the 34th street post office. Tall rows of windows gilded marble floors with midday light. Elegant, Corinthian pillars held the majestic patterns of art-deco ceilings skyward. My nearby neighborhood post office was a pantheon, a tribute to the city's scale and history. Yet there I stood, analyzing a mysterious stain where I once appreciated the scale of the architecture. I paid more attention to the florescent wash on the wrinkled frowns behind the counter then the surreal grandiosity of the building surrounding them. My tired outlook had allowed the magic of the once captivating city to fade. Forcing optimism was too difficult, I instead mailed more DVDs and redoubled my efforts to get the hell out of there.
Some of those DVDs landed, as evidence by Polaroids with new friends at the nation's biggest animation festival.

The clock crawled at Titmouse. 7 strikes, time again- uptown train- scrolling checks on a last minute to-do list: A trendy Manhattan restaurant, a comedy Club, a colossal toy store, and the Society of Illustrators. Past the venerable charcoal sketches from advertising's most stylist eras, round the creaking vintage staircase, I emerged onto to the penthouse lounge. First glance served a succession of quick montage cuts: violins, asparagus, a chandelier, and of course, an oaken bar beneath a stately painting of the room I was in. These accouterments and more seemingly ripped from a film set at a 1930s banquet. I felt young, sheepish.under-dressed, and out of place. But, I couldn't pass up the free meal my entry donation price coincidentally allowed this night. I had to come for the Maurice Sendak show- a favorite children's book illustrator. The Society of Illustrators however, lived up to its high sounding name, and I found myself wondering form the first floor gallery through prestigious halls.

A month-long sublet allowed me reprieve form the cockroach sanctuary and I moved for the second of three times that Summer. More Pratt ID magic delivered shopping carts on which I piled my all my earthly possessions and braved the war torn sidewalks of Brooklyn. Noisy, exhausted, and humiliated I shoved the heavy cart for miles through laughing brownstone cookouts and annoyed storefronts. My relative poverty lead to rather unpleasant solutions. On the plus side, the narrow buildings formed a forested enclosure hidden from city streets and available through the back door.

Half my time was up. I had made progress, however superficial. A website, a resume, a film, a demo reel, business cards, festival submissions, applications, scheduled lunches, and online attention needed only time to deliver results. Or so I hoped. For now, there was nothing to do by kick back and enjoy the breeze of Americana. The fourth of July exchanged music and aromas across Brooklyn rooftops. Ours was aluminum, giving the impression of celebrating independence day from atop either a solar panel, a lake of mercury, or the shiny surface of a sun-orbiting satellite. And although our NYC version of a backyard was coated in reflective silver, I've rarely enjoyed the spirit of the holiday so completely.

Time moved faster now, blurred together, drifted towards the centrifugal force of the impending move. Events and days melted to spin one activity into another: an outdoor bluegrass concert gave way to the 24 hour gas station where we waited for AM pancakes. This in turn gave way to a bizarre loft party where people disappeared in and out of indoor tents underneath the LED glow of a giant paper-mache jellyfish. A live orchestra kicked in and I was again returned to an outdoor venue where they scored Beasts of the Southern Wild live in the tepid New York night. Even the Brooklyn streets drifted past on long walks where friends and I said sappy goodbyes thinly veiled by talks of philosophy. shell shocked projects melted into enormous parks, into leafy, vine covered manors, into cutesy gentrified boutiques streets closed for the night, and finally back into my apartment's stoop. The drifting slid into a stillness and the walks came to a rest in a quiet, final goodbye to old friends.

I always move in the Summer. Farewell Texas.

Audios New York.

See you soon, California.

A sucker for symmetry, I book ended my new York experience with a touch of sentimentality. Mike's dinner was the first diner I'd ever eaten in. Both my first visit to New York and my first, sleepless night at Pratt finished with Mike's diner. You can slide past the neon signs and into a booth dipped down cozy, eye level with the street. But this time I sat at the counter. I ordered a slice of pie and a black coffee. The old man beside me told me stories about Vietnam and I tried my best to trade him decent stories in return. We talked about California. He told me I'd be back. He said if I wanted to swap stories when I got back, I knew where to find him. I paid my bill and caught a cab to the airport.

Stay tuned, next time: California! Explanations for this and more!-


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Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Last Days at Pratt

(Title Card for Breadheads)

The grey sludge was slick enough to declare the roads unsafe. We got the day off from classes. Sloshing through Ft. Green felt like crossing a basement flooded with frozen mop water. A bustling, wood stove charm inside the BBQ restaurant provided a few minutes calm before the nerves set in. My film was in its final stretch, and I used the free time for some feedback from a professional I’d once had a pleasant few beers with. The weather had also grounded the plane of my Professional’s old friend, an artist from California who I very much admired. I watched passersby from the cabin porch style interior and practiced casual segways in my head. They arrived, ordered food, and I transitioned the laptop onto the table less smoothly than I had planned. Two ear buds among four ears, one annoyingly attentive waiter, and the many passing dozens through warm space on a cold day all conspired to distract during the four minute space of my unfinished film. The viewing ambiance was less than ideal; they tore my film apart. The Californian even received a plane alert a few sentences into my lashing; he disappeared before we got to the constructive part. I walked home feeling like static, and the wind carried a rising current of sleet into my back.

(Sketchbook Page)

Weeks later it was still sleeting. The storm gained strength by robbing the collective student body of it’s enthusiasm. Ritual kept me sane, I can’t speak for anybody else. The paint stained floors creaked with the parade of student exit at 12:15 Fridays. Steve and I smelled of terpenoid and thick, aged oil paints when we stood outside Jared’s townhouse window throwing tiny rocks. Three flights up our insomniac would try to hide inside his slanted attic room from the harsh irregular clicks against his window. But we’d always win; we’d count the growing collection of 20oz red bull cans tacked his walls while he got dressed. I’ve talked on John’s dinner before. A divey corner spot, with a 2x4 of walking space between stuffed booths and a full counter. If you knew how to work the menu, Frankie could hook you up with the full works for under 5 bucks- an omelette, some coffee, grits, sausage and toast. You could leave with your insides warm enough to make up for your outsides. That was the spot. Every Friday we’d sink sleepy Jared low into the quicksand booths and own the privacy of a conversation hidden among so much ambient clatter. Each week Jared brought more of a zombie to lunch, and Steve collected stress. I kept my head down and barreled forward. This was not a fun semester for us; but at least there was something small to keep us reaching for Friday.

(Steve, Jared, and I pantomiming choking for a forgotten project.)

(Sketchbook page- a result of a semester long fascination with greasers.)

Most days started with a 9:20 alarm for 9:30 class. It took me 7 minutes at full trot to get from my bed to my studio and vice versa. My studio closed at 3, and my days ended at 3:09am. So went the semester, a geometric grid of tight schedules and unbudging numbers. I drifted home afloat the scent of sleep one night, tunnel vision cropping the embers of catastrophe to my right . At 9:20 the next day, I window checked the weather to see if it was miserably cold or bitterly cold. My campus view saluted Main Building, a Romanesque Revival tower arisen from the flat brick walkways below. I noticed a crater in that  9:30 class of mine. A scorched, smoking hole inlaid the facade of Main like a gunshot wound. My late night float was moments too soon for the picture party, but Facebook filled me in. We painted in a wooden lean-to along end of the basketball courts for the rest of the semester.

A sack of change has been swelling in my closet since high school. It lived in a tin canister until it outgrew its cage, and is currently occupying triple-baged shopping sacks. Even still, its a long way off from Cintiq money. A Cintiq is a professional piece of artistic equipment, a giant computer monitor with a pressure sensitive screen which one draws directly onto. I told myself that was the reward and object of my eventual savings. Hovering around two thousand for a new model, I thought I'd have to transfer the change to a bathtub before that day arrived. One frozen 9:30, a friend tipped me off to a craigslist seller advertising an undamaged, full size model for seven hundred dollars. The serendipitous fact that my non-emergency bank account had just passed that landmark sent me into serious consideration. Holidays, birthdays, the RA job, art sales, tutoring, and a miser's attention to my bank account had given me some wiggle room. It was too fortuitous not to investigate. This is where things got hairy. The online add stated:  

" Inquires: (temporary, untraceable email), 
Money on arrival"

After a furtive and borderline inhuman email exchange, my intrigue demanded investigation. What the heck, I'd even bring the cash on the off chance this unnamed, unlisted NYC craigslist electronics peddler ended up being a legitimate, non-murderous businessperson. A time was set, but despite the previously prompt exchange, the location was a lingering mystery. They seemed to be controlling the parameters of our meeting with a last minute location drop. I forwarded the email chain to a friend on the way out the door so the police would know where to look for my body. Against the clock I arrived early, not at the back alley promised by imagination, but at the heavy glass doors of a Manhattan sky scraper. Cross the marble lobby I incriminated myself with the vagaries of what I understood my business there to be. I talked my way into appearing a computer thief when unable to give a specific name or explain what a Cintiq was to the security staff. Outside I observed a fortunately timed change of shift for the watch-people. I then explained the purpose of my loitering with empty luggage to an entering office employee. After signing me in, the kindly, irresponsibly unquestioning businesswoman and myself parted ways in the elevator. On floor seventeen I found entry through frosted tap access glass doors on the backs of lunchtime returners. A stylish but generic office lobby offered panoramic views of lower Manhattan and incurious workers. Cautious probing revealed occupations so vague as to be instantly forgotten. The investigated where uncharacteristically friendly to the unexplained stranger in their guarded office building, even asking if I had a resume to put on file. After several minutes, it became clear that no one had any knowledge of a Cintiq sale. My appointment time had passed, and it seemed I had wandered into the wrong building. I stalled for information as long as I could, then stood up, prepared to leave. I thanked everyone for their time just before someone mentioned "Mike." "Mike might be selling something- he's the tech guy." Our attention shifted toward the back of that long office, where Mike was already facing us, shaving a carrot onto the carpet with a huge kitchen knife. He summoned me with a nod and disappeared around a corner. Mike was imposing, and high strung. Fast, aggressive cadences and a neatly ironed demeanor made Mike seem more a Wall Street hot shot than a computer technician. He grilled me on why I didn't call, and why in the world I came in through the front. To the man who had set up a temporary, unlisted email address, I explained that I was unable to get in contact with him. He was satisfied, even pleased with the answer as we entered a windowless computer storeroom. Perhaps the most unexpected turn was the perfect condition of the Cintiq. Money exchanged hands, and Mike offered to throw in a robotic arm for two hundred extra dollars. Turning down whatever a robotic arm entails, I began to wheel my suitcase out the way I'd come. Mike blocked my path laughing, and directed my to what appeared an unused freight elevator. Deposited onto the adjacent block through a stained, one way iron door, I shuffled home, baffled, one Cintiq richer.
(My Cintiq setup as it currently exits in Los Angeles)

All those general education classes you’d expect to skip in art school- your Sciences and Humanities and Histories and Phys Eds- I saved them all for dessert. The time not spent obsessively perfecting the final touches of my film was spent sketching through Environmental Science lectures. The illustrations decorating the space between these paragraphs were born from this daydreaming.

(Swirl Girl)

Monotony, bad weather, and sleep deprivation did little to damper that eventual downhill glee of getting ahead of schedule on my film. My buddy RT and company arrived over spring break. There was time even to enjoy my so called vacation for the first time in years. A long overdue visit to the famous Katz deli provided sandwiches taller than they were wide, and unique old New York ambiance. There were crowded pool halls full of smoke and jazz, and dark bar mazes leading to mountainous nachos. You will be missed, Brooklyn Public House. Checklists crossed for old favorites and new, I was ready to face the final sprint of my educational career.

We rounded up a puppet class. The professor said she’d teach that semester if we found 10 students. Fifteen or so buddy emails and one surprisingly easy sell later, 3 credits a week were dedicated to giving string puppets bad British accents. There was ever the lingering question of the final. We slid the final piece of newly furnished student union furniture into an ovular Colosseum arrangement surrounding the stage. Early arrivals began to dot the edges of the auditorium and linger near the outer orbit. Our chorus line of giant noses squared away last minute choreography behind the narrow backstage curtain as the auditorium began to buzz with a blooming student body.The department had sprung for a decent budget; the poster campaign combined with the promise of post-show pizza delivered an unexpected crowd. Now there was something to be nervous about.

It was quite the performance, climaxing in the knockout but un-photographed final number. Its 
memory lives on only through Pratt legend.

Lush, patterned carpet, thick and yielding like grass, gave way to floods of student footsteps. Geometric gold trimmings danced patterns sky high overhead. I waited sheepishly in Radio City Music Hall’s lobby costumed as a graduate. Other than the impressive setting there wasn't much to be said for graduation. Four years I wouldn't change were spread before me. Yet, they were nothing if not grueling and painful. My goodbyes to this city and Institution were long overdue, and my change of scene soon approaching.

The final cut of my senior film awaits below. Understand before watching that my intention was to craft a tone the furthest from the animation norm as possible. The polar opposite of the market cliche seemed to play in waters cerebral and macabre, which conveniently reflected my emotional experience at the time. It is a shaky tower built on countless thousands of my own drawings; it is a work composed entirely by me. Despite a title card prematurely painted, even the sound was painstakingly learned and applied by me in the final hours of the project. (I didn’t have the heart to throw out the already painted card when my sound designer dropped out). I recognize the film's inaccessibility and even seeming randomness, but I encourage you to pose any questions you may have about artistic intentions. I ensure you everything is in place for a reason- I hope in the future to make my works more clear and enjoyable to a general audience. You will also find an artist’s statement in the description on youtube which may well clear up thematic questions. So to prove the film has merit outside the pretentiousness of art school, I will say that it has been popularly featured across online forums, accumulating hundreds of thousands of views in its combined appearances. Below also are the  film festival awards and selections at the date of this post. Without further delay, I proudly present, Breadheads: