By hook and by crook, I somehow managed to get involved with a team of highly skilled folks making cartoon magic. I’m not sure if you all knew, but ten years ago, I wrote a script called “Shotokan Man” and a production company in California turned it into a feature length animation. It’s a “double-fisted, southern-fried, multi-cultural kung-fu love story adventure” that you can actually rent now on Amazon Prime.
It’s been a long time coming. We premiered it at the Portobello Film Festival in London. It’s the largest independent movie festival in the United Kingdom and they chose our movie to show on the closing day-out of over 700 films that were entered. When we got word that they wanted to screen it as their closer, it put our production schedule into overdrive. The team in L.A. had to pour on the coal.
So, I got on a plane and headed west to see if I could help. I felt like I was chasing my rainbow. When I landed at Burbank I looked around at the bustling airport and wondered if there were other people who had come there to chase their own rainbows.
On Monday morning, bright and early, I arrived at the animation studio. A more accurate description might be the “animation closet.” It was a tiny office suite in a maze-like building, stuffed full with computers, chairs, and hardworking artists. And it smelled a little like dirty gym socks.
All morning long, I watched the animation team working. First I looked over the shoulder of the storyboard artist. His name was Jacob and although he’s a young man he had a long goat-like beard. Jacob was making rough sketches of the characters and in particular was working on a fight scene between the hero and the bad guys. He drew on blank paper, making faces come to life with emotion. Every now and again, he pushed his pencil into an electric sharpener. The pencil grew shorter and shorter as he worked feverishly, making amazing characters spring off the white paper.
Next I moved to the background station. One of the artists, JC, was peering over the tops of his glasses, squinting at his computer monitor. He was working on pine trees for our imagined Alabama forest. He built the trunks first, making the bark texture on each one. Then he filled the needles in. Next he made the wind move through them, making each tree move in unison, like a real breeze was blowing them. He dropped them into the scene, populating the background. So much work to make the background look real!
Then I sat in on some of the editing process. The director Bob looked over the editor’s shoulder and gave him ideas about how to fit things together. It was amazing watching them work. By cutting out seconds here and there, the scene got tighter and tighter, until it was perfectly timed. Then they added it to the rest of the movie. One more scene down. Twenty-four to go until all of them were finished.
I think the flash animation guys were my favorite to watch. The lead of that team was named Chris. He was sporting black fingernail polish and a striped boggin. It was Chris’ responsibility to make sure all the characters had emotions that matched the actors’ recorded voices. I watched as he perfected eyebrow-wiggling, eye-squinting, lips moving, arms and hands punctuating. Every little nuance worked together to make the characters come to life. I was captivated by how life-like they became.
After a while, I felt like the guys were probably tired of having somebody breathing down their necks so I decided to take a walk. It was Burbank at lunchtime. Cars whizzed by, honking at each other aggressively. Movie posters shouted from every bus stop and corner. The air was gray and drizzly. Not weather that I anticipated for southern California.
Palm trees looked strange in the chilly day. Their trunks looked naked and their shaggy heads shivered in the wind. I buttoned up my coat and strode down the street. The brisk wind pushed my hair back away from my face. I looked past the grimy liquor store windows. Past the rain-slick sidewalks. I looked as far as I could down the palm tree- lined street, all the way to the mountains that lay at the eastern end of town. The sun had come out for just a minute. Suddenly, spanning the foothills, I saw a band of color. Orange. Yellow. Indigo. Violet. Red. I was in California, chasing my rainbow, and there it was, shining at the end of Burbank Avenue.