Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blackwing-ing their way to me

For those interested, the new Palomino Blackwing pencils just came available to order about 5 minutes ago.  Yes, I already have some on their way to me.
The first time a Blackwing has been available in stores since 1998.  I hope I am not the only nerd excited.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Morpheus, why hast thou forsaken me?!

For whatever reason the more I am creative and productive, the less easily I fall asleep at night.  Its a snide little punishment my mind plays on me.  When I need to be productive I feel drowsy.  When I have no want to be productive I am wired.  Of course, if I were to try to be productive at 1am, then I would be awake till dawn then my next day is ruined.  Bah.

Currently I am rereading Stephen Kings, On Writing.  I cannot stress how important this book is to the aspiring novelist.  Half of the book is an autobiography of King, from his first memory all the way up 1997 when he wrote the book.  By the time you get around to the portion where he discusses the basic tools of the trade, your newfound insight into who he is allows you to accept his recommendations on writing as a suggestion from a dear friend .  His discussion of his methods are surprisingly real, which sounds cliche but I can think of no better way to describe it.  There is no superfluous language, no putting the 'craft' on a pedestal.  Its work, habit, practice and the ability to accept a negative critique.  His thought experiment of writing as telepathy is worth the price of the book.

 “All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation” 

It seems ridiculous; however I cannot argue his hypothesis.  
He says to picture a table, covered in a red tablecloth.  Upon the table rests a cage, and in that cage contentedly munching on a carrot is a white rabbit.  The number 8 is dyed in blue upon the rabbits fur.  

  There.  He had an image, I passed it on to you, now you have the same image.  A bunny in a cage dyed with a blue 8.  The specifics of each object is moot, the point is you thought his minds image even through my poor translation.  Don't take my word for it, read his book.  If you need further urging (and this sort of thing does it for you) apparently they had an homage to this blue numbered white rabbit in an episode of Lost.  

As I said, its a pretty fantastic read even if you don't care for his fiction.  Point of fact, I had never read any of his fiction until after I read On Writing.  Then I pretty much had to.

Recently, I've also been oogling a great number of pencil tests from various 2D animations.  The sheer artistry is always incredible to see in this world of poorly done 3D and flash animation.  The best example of exquisite line work comes from Sandro Cleuzo, a gentleman lucky enough to be trained by Don Bluth and Milt Kahl. On his blog he linked to a vimeo page with some fantastic pencil tests.  

Another good site to hit is .  Its got bits and pieces of all sorts of different artists and genres.

Also worth a watch is a Mickey Mouse cartoon from the 50's series Make Mine Music that was shelved before it was finished.  Its called Plight of the Bumble Bee.  Disney keeps taking the videos of it down because they got tired of people asking them to finish it, but if you hunt for it I am sure its out there in the vastness of the interweb somewhere.

With Halloween right around the corner start expecting to see reviews of horror films that have been reviewed a hundred times before discussed by me.  Hopefully there will be one or two you haven't seen that I can introduce to you.

Sleep well.  I am off to chase ewes with a pot of blue dye and a paintbrush.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed

In every profession, at least when dealing with people who have a love for what they do, it seems there are those who are extremely passionate about a certain physical representation of their obsession.  A voice over artist or musician may have a certain type of mic they refuse to record without, a chef a certain type of skillet, a doctor a special stethoscope.  These items often take on mythical qualities and become akin to a secret password to identify our true brethren from within the crowded auditorium of our respective fields.  For animators and writers, one such item is the Blackwing Pencil.  While it has scores of blog pages devoted to it, my personal favorites are those of the Blackwing Diaries and Andy Wefle (who is also the first person who introduced me to the term scribomechanica so I thank him for that).  

Now, for those that may be reading this blog for its art content you are probably familiar with the Blackwing pencil.  Please be quiet, don't ruin it for the rest of the class and skip ahead a few paragraphs.  However, for those who are not familiar I will expound (plus I like to hear the sound of my own keys clacking).

The Blackwing is an odd looking pencil.  Sporting a slate grey paint job that resisted the normal dulling a pencil gets inside of a pencil bag, it has a squared off shape to keep it from rolling off your desk.  Its most noticeable feature was the eraser which was designed to be removed and flipped around when one end was used up in order to extend the life of the pencil.  From what I have read it became common practice to push the frugality of the instrument even further by putting cut off portions of drawing erasers in as replacement when both ends had been wore down.  Its lead was a graphite wax combination that kept the quality of the line consistent, did not smudge and did not crumble, meaning as you wrote/drew you had a smooth, even line without little flakes of sooty debris messing up your pretty white space.  The waxy consistency of the graphite was what gave the pencil its slogan, 'Half the pressure, twice the speed' stamped with gold foil along its length.

The Blackwing was originally manufactured by Eberhard Faber.  I couldn't find any reference as to when the Blackwing pencil began production, which strikes me as odd considering the ridiculous amount of  devotion pages I was able to find.  Judging by the earliest packaging I would guess sometime in the twenties.  If they were new near that time period, this would make some degree of sense as to why they were so popular with the original Disney animators.  Glen Keene, Ward Kimball, Fred Moore and many other animators of the time were said to always have a couple on hand.  Cecil B. Demille, Raymond Chandeler, and Ernie Kovacs all were known to prefer them.  John Steinbeck, who claimed to go through 20 pencils in a given day, claimed they were the best pencil in existence.  He said they "floated over the paper just wonderfully."        

The Blackwing Pages has an in-depth review of the various iterations of the pencil here.

As they were primarily popular with writers and artist, the Blackwing was never a big seller.  Honestly, what percentage of the population has been made up of scribblers over the past century?  In the 1990s, the company that produced the pencils was bought by Sanford Corp (owner of the Paper*Mate brand as well as many others).  Then in late 1997, the machine that manufactured the pencils broke.  Specifically, the portion of the machine that failed was the bit that created the unusual ferrule that held the eraser into the end.

Considering their average annual production during its later years was 1100 pencils it didn't strike them as a profitable line to keep manufacturing.  So 1998 was the final year you could go out and buy a Blackwing off the store shelf for $.50.

When word of the cancellation traveled around, artists and writers started buying up the pencil as fast as they could.  I have read accounts of some people who would ONLY create with a Blackwing buying up arm-loads of them and storing them in a hall closet.  This created a Tickle-Me-Elmo effect, and what you could buy two for a buck suddenly shot up to $10 bucks a pencil.

Cut to now.  Currently, a single unused Blackwing is going for $40 on ebay (don't go look right now, I don't want you outbidding me on the one I am trying to get).  This means that unless you are Stephen King and your pencil shavings make you money, you have to be a ridiculous scribomechanica enthusiast for this purchase to begin to make sense.  Of course, that said there are plenty of us out there.

Thankfully for my pocketbook, the Blackwing brand has recently been purchased by California Cedar and there is a revival in the works.   I first heard about it on the Blackwing Diaries, and then subsequently BoingBoing.  According to the blog of the owner of the company (or at the very least the blogosphere spokesperson) they will have the new Blackwing available this coming week.  There have been a few changes, most notably the lack of the old slogan stamped into the pencil and the color of the eraser.  Reports from beta testers of the new product swear while a great pencil, the new just doesn't quite match up to the quality of the old.  However, there is a lot to be said about the effects nostalgia can have upon the quality of a product.  I mean, I don't even care for Pepsi but when Throwback Pepsi came out I bought up cases of the stuff, only drinking  it when watching Goonies or Gremlins and swear nothing is as tasty these days.  

Whether as good as the original or the next best thing, I intend to buy a box or two of the new Blackwings just to say I have them.  It will make me feel like part of a special club and foster the delusion that using them will help me be a better scribbler.  It wont be out of the ordinary for me considering I just purchased a reporter style Moleskin and new bottle of ink for my fountain pen just so I could feel more like a 'real' writer*.  Now I just need to sit down and actually use them.  

*Note: scale of delusion may not equal scale of actual talent.

For the curious out there (I had no idea) here is a video detailing how a standard pencil is produced.  

Go out there and scribble like the wind, True Believers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chances in Heaven

After taking far to long to get it put together, I finally have a trailer for the short film Rain in Hell ready for viewing.  Its a gritty mobster movie written by the talented Mickey Stone. I directed, shot, edited and special effected the short film...what I lack in production speed I make up for in end credits.  :)
  In all seriousness though, it has turned into a pretty spectacular short film. it had top notch acting talents all the way through.  Mickey and Nathan Shelton play the Hayes Brothers, enforcers for a local mob kingpin (played perfectly by Arlin Somers) who has recently passed away.  They know without the fear of the mob boss protecting them, the brothers are about to be in the cross-hairs of every mook out to make a name for themselves.  Also giving incredible performances were the exquisite Rachel Scott, the indomitable Allen Marsh, the brooding Shaun Young and an awe inspiring cast of supporting talent.
  I have to hand it to Mr. Stone for rounding up a superb group of musicians for the soundtrack.  Theolynn Carpenter and The Wardrobe Cathedral lent a couple of songs to our soundtrack.  Without a doubt her vocals have to be some of the most imposing I have heard in a very long time and the texture of their music adds an exceptional quality to the film.
  Beth Thompson also was kind enough to let us use a few of her works, providing an incredibly emotional undertone during a couple of key moments during the film.  You can check out the music video of one of the songs we used here.
  Last but not least Todd Anthony Mandieta lent us use of some powerful guitar work that sounds so natural and pervasive its hard to believe we shot the scenes without his music already in them.
  We are speaking with a gentleman in LA who regularly lends his talent to a few Fox television shows and feature films to compose the score for our feature.   I have been wanting to work on a project with him quite some time, but unfortunately I have never had a project get close enough to completion to get the chance.

There blogspot version of the trailer is only for those who want to scan it quickly, as the quality is terrible.  For a higher resolution and far more watchable version check it out on vimeo.

  For a full list of credits, check out the website

So, its on me to finish up the feature so we can share that as well.  I have a few special effects scenes to wrap up and then we can send it out into the world.  I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks of it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Glad to see the back of August

August was not a great month. Work was slow, then it up and stopped for a bit. September feels like its starting off well though, so I am excited for the possible progress the month holds. Plus, its raining today for the first time in what seems like at least a month and rain always makes me feel like there is a clean slate.

Anyhow, as far as progress! I have my portfolio website mostly updated for the first time in a year. I am going to add some sprites from the Garfield game that I worked on back in the day and then it will be solid. Also, I have made quite a bit of headway on the feature film that I shot a couple of years ago. I finished the rough edit and I am halfway through the final edit. I am impressed with how well it is flowing considering it was the first feature for everyone involved. But, even with having worked on several features since then, my first still seems like it was one of the best sets I've been on. Winter's Bone is a close second. Organized, on deadline, on budget and an incredible feeling of comradery from all involved. In thinking about promoting it I may start putting snippets of the behind the scenes video that my good friends, Juan Diaz and Nathan Shelton (the producer and one of the actors of the film), shot during their downtime on set. They have about 5 hours of footage and I think it will go a long way to show the dedication and talent the cast and crew had on that pic.

Also, I have made some headway on the effects work for Mickey Stone's film, Rain in Hell. Its a gritty gangster type of movie with a samurai twist. I storyboard'd, DP'd, directed and edited the short. It has some incredible music in it from Theolynn Carpenter and the Wardrobe Cathedral, Beth Thompson and the Shway, and Todd Anthony Mendieta. Also, the acting was top notch. I need to get a trailer together ASAP to put up on the website to start promoting that work as well.

An unfortunate side note, at one point there were four or five Geek blogs that I checked daily for empowering and in depth articles on toys, comics, sci-fi and general geek culture.  However, over the past several months the majority of those guys have had to either slow down their posts or close their blogs entirely due to new babies, new jobs or commercial success ( I know, priorities, right?).  So, I need someone to recommend some new geek/nerd type blogs for me to get my creative juices flowing first thing in the morning.

One blog I recommend folks checking out is a friend of mine who makes delightful hand sewn household items.  She discusses her exploits on her blog, then sells the items on etsy.  As an additional aside, she is one of the best video game producers around.

Before I go, just to show I am doing some real artwork I leave a teasing thumbnail of a series of paintings I am working on inspired by Gil Elvgren (you know, from back when pin-ups were still classy) and the ladies of 80's cartoons.  This journey into Corel Painter has already shown to have better results, so I look forward to showing off the final work.