Did CGI Change Animated Storytelling?

It’s an interesting question. The thesis of this video is that hand-drawn animation, by its nature, wants to tell stories about small numbers of characters in an isolated setting, because that kind of story is easy and less expensive to draw, whereas the nature of CGI and its ability to animate large numbers of objects at once pushes animation in the direction of telling stories in a larger, more cosmopolitan setting, like a big city. As a result, hand-drawn animation works well with traditional fairy tales, in which the old order is corrupted and it is the hero’s task to restore the status quo, whereas CGI pushes storytelling in the direction of a more complex society, one with injustices that the hero is called upon to redress.

It’s worth watching, because the video makes a convincing case, though I would quibble with the use of the words “conservative” and “liberal” to describe these two types of stories, as those two words harbor political implications that have nothing to do with the thesis and therefore muddy the waters. I would have described the two kinds of stories as “restorative” and “transformative.” Still, an insightful video, well worth watching if you’re interested in feature film animation, but try not to get hung up on the conservative/liberal thing.

“The Boy Who Didn’t Know How to Recognize a King” Announcement

I am happy to announce that my fantasy short story, “The Boy Who Didn’t Know How to Recognize a King” will be published by Aliterate magazine!

Aliterate describes itself as a magazine of “literary genre fiction,” and I have been told the story is tentatively scheduled for publication in the Spring 2018 issue. It may also be posted online, although I can’t tell you that for sure, yet. So stay tuned; I’ll be able to give you more solid information when we get closer to the date.

“The Boy Who Didn’t Know How to Recognize a King” is based upon an authentic Khmer folk tale, “The King and the Buffalo Boy.” Of course, I have elaborated significantly on the original story.

I hope you like it!

My Thoughts on National Coming Out Day

I went to the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. One of my classmates was a guy named Steven A. Marquez.

I met Steve at a summer job, and we became pretty friendly. We didn’t have any classes in common, but we stayed in touch for the rest of our time at Penn. I can’t say we were really close; we never went out for beers together or anything like that, but I thought of him as my friend.

And I envied him a little. He wanted to be a newspaper reporter; I had dreams of becoming a writer. But while my dreams were just dreams, he was a positive zealot about becoming a newspaper reporter and was working hard to make it happen. And the paper he dreamed of writing for was the Philadelphia Daily News. He took English and journalism courses and was Managing Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian, the school newspaper. When a Daily News editor came to Penn to teach a journalism class, Steve was so there. He wrote a story for that course that moved the instructor to say that he wished the reporters working for him at the Daily News could produce work that good.

But it was tough to get work in journalism, even then. Steve told me senior year that he had mailed out his first batch of 100 resumes (that’s how we did it then) and gotten zero responses. (Today it’s much worse for journalists, of course, but still, that was pretty tough.) Just before graduation, he told me he had landed a job at the St. Petersburg Times. I wished him well, and we parted ways.

I never saw him again. I thought of him from time to time; I imagined him in sunny Florida, criss-crossing the Tampa Bay region, uncovering scandals. Then, eight years later, in 1987, I picked up a newspaper and read his obituary.

I was shocked. At the age of 29, you may have experienced the deaths of people much older than you, but that is way too early to be losing your peers. As I read the obituary, I learned that Steve had eventually landed his dream job at the Daily News and had returned to Philadelphia, where I was also living. He was making quite a name for himself at the paper (no surprise there), but then he had contracted a long and painful illness. He’d spent months in the hospital, slowly wasting away, until at last it took his life. He was 29, the same age I was.

He had died of complications from an HIV infection. He was mourned at the Daily News, and The Daily Pennsylvanian now has an annual journalism conference named after him.

Steve was gay. And I never knew it. He was dying nearby, and I never knew it. My wife and I had our first child in the same hospital where Steve was dying at the same time. And I never knew it.

The pain of his death, and the strange and roundabout way I learned of it, never left me. I am shaking right now, as I type these words. The shock of losing such a young friend is part of it. The regret I feel that I never got the chance to visit him in the hospital during his illness—which I certainly would have done, had I known—never diminished.

But the biggest shock of all was that Steve was gay and I had had no idea.

I had thought we were friends. I had thought I knew him fairly well. But only after his death did I learn that there was a whole side of his life I knew nothing about. And I didn’t know because Steve was afraid to tell me. He was afraid of what I might think. He was afraid I wouldn’t want to be his friend anymore. He was afraid of what would happen if his sexual orientation became common knowledge.

It was that fear that led to his not telling, which led to my not knowing, which led to my not being there at his side when he needed love and support, which led to the shock of my finding out about his death in a newspaper.

If you had told me, Steve, I would have been okay about it. Yes, the 1970s were very different, and I was a churchgoing young man from a rural community who had zero experience with LGBT people, and I probably would have freaked a little. But I wouldn’t have hated you. I wouldn’t have rejected you. I would have learned. I would have grown. I would have become a better person sooner, and a better friend to you. And I most certainly would have sat with you in the hospital, even held your hand.

But I don’t blame you. You had hard choices to make in the 1970s and you had career ambitions that were important to you. You wouldn’t have wanted anything to get in the way of that, and I fully understand. I blame the society that put you in that hard place. Sadly, both of us suffered for it.

And that brings me to #NationalComingOutDay. Coming out isn’t nearly the big deal it used to be. Times have changed quite a bit, as I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you. Coming out is easier, except perhaps for young people and people within certain communities.

But I share this story in the hope that it might reach someone who is still not yet “out.” I understand that you may be silent for good reasons. Your own safety and well-being may be at stake, just as it was for Steve. But I bet you also know someone in your life like me. Someone who might freak a little at first, but will not hate or reject you. Someone who will learn and grow from the experience, just as you will, and will stand with you when you need a friend.

Tell them.

If there is no such person in your life, then contact me. You can message me or email me or drop a note in the comments, and we’ll talk. i promise I won’t freak. I know it’s scary, but it’s the first step toward making it better. For both of us. For all of us.

It’s National Coming Out Day.

“This Is Not Going to Go the Way You Think!”

I hope not.

So there’s a new trailer out for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and it looks pretty cool:

But do I have qualms? Of course I do!

The Force Awakens wasn’t bad—it had much to like, in fact—but it seemed an awful lot like a rehash of the original 1977 Star Wars. Similarly, this trailer suggests a film that rehashes The Empire Strikes Back. It seems a safe bet that Kylo Ren and Rey are related in some way. Siblings? Cousins? This is Star Wars after all. The trailer is hinting at an “I am your brother” moment. The loving shot of a line of classic AT-ATs does nothing to ease my fear. Please, please, please, can you do something new and not keep rehashing the original trilogy? Thanks.

It could be just the way the trailer is edited. If you watch it closely, you can see it’s mashing up moments from different scenes to make you think things are happening that aren’t really happening. So maybe the trailer editor just thought it would be fun to mess with us.

Also, the last time Star Wars did something new, it was Jar-Jar Binks, which is a pretty good argument that rehashing the original trilogy is maybe not the worst idea.

We’ll find out soon enough.