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A Walk Down Nostalgia Lane

Thinnox Fall Semester!

September 9th, 2016
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Hello, my name is Robert Waterworth. The fantastic folks at Thinnox have bestowed upon me the honor of writing a blog for their website. This offer could not have come at a better time. As I am getting on in my years I’ve acquired a fair bit of experience and yet I’m still young enough to recall most of it, so I best make some notes while I can still remember it all.  All joking aside, being asked to jot down my thoughts and experiences has made me stop and take stock of all the twisty roads my career has taken me. If I would have to guess I would say that 99% of those twisty roads were very positive experiences. So I shall not be writing about that 1% . I choose to forget these little nasty tid bits of the past.

Let’s start my introduction to you with a little background on myself. As a young boy, I was mesmerized by things I saw on the cinema screen. Everything that had to do with animation and special effects was magic to me. Now I am them of the generation that straddles both sides of the fence. That is one foot on the analog side and the other foot in the digital side.

Now I don’t know if this is fate or just luck, nut when I was 11 years old, my public school offered an after school program in animation. The workshop was run by someone from the National Film Board of Canada. I cannot remember all the details about that workshop, but I do remember it lasting several weeks, and I did  produce several different types of animated film. These little experimental films were nothing less than pure magic to me. By today’s standards, they were extremely primitive, though at the time period in which I was exposed this world, the whole process was mind blowing. Of course back in those days there was no digital medium. We were working with 16mm film stock. With one particular project, we simply took strips of exposed and developed clear film and a bunch of colored magic markers, we drew random scribbles on as many frames as we could. Then the instructor projected the 2 minute film on the screen in the classroom and we all sat back and marveled at our creation. Each student was given about 10 feet of film to work with, after a couple of hours we had produced about 2 minutes of film. In reality it was nothing more than a bunch of colored squiggles lines and dots zipping by on the projector screen, but nevertheless those were our scruples that we were watching on the screen. We were filmmakers, and we reveled in the glory. Unfortunately, there was no way to show this to anybody at home, in fact, I never saw that film again after that one screening. I assume the instructor took it home with them, in fact I wonder where it is today?

In a world where hundreds of thousands of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube along every single day, this 2 minutes of squiggly wiggly lines seems rather insignificant. Back then television and film was an unreachable medium, so far away from our grasps. It was something that was made somewhere else by people doing something that we had no concept of. As I said before, it was pure magic. So for us budding filmmakers at the tender age of 11, being able to see something projected on a screen that we had just created was a profound experience.

I won’t bore you with every single little experiment done over the last 36 years, in fact, I’ll skip ahead a couple decades.

When I went to college, we were still pretty much in an analog world. This meant that bringing our ideas and concepts to life had some considerable barriers to overcome. The technology involved was rather cumbersome and tremendously expensive.

I started out in the industry when everything was still analog.  I was witness to the birth of the digital revolution. So I’ve had the privilege or disadvantage, depending on how you want to look at it of straddling both sides of the fence.

Which side of the fence to I prefer? The answer is quite simple. The digital side.  I hear those  moans and groans from the old school analog people. I’ve heard all the arguments about Lps are better than CDs and film is better than DVD etc. However privileged I feel to have been part of the evolution, I think we have come a long way, and things are just getting more exciting every day.

I mentioned earlier, I made my first foray into the world of animation and filmmaking at the age of 11. I have four children; Mark is 26, Jessica is 22, Lauren is 14 and my youngest, Audrey  is 10.

Audrey has inherited my for love animation. Last year we bought an IPad for the family. Nobody owns it, it just seems to float around from person to person. I like to read my magazines on it, my wife likes the check Facebook, my teenager likes to update her various social network accounts, which number in the hundreds by now.

I also have an IPhone, and one day while browsing the ITunes store. I downloaded a stop motion animation app. This app worked both on the IPad and the IPhone simultaneous. By setting up the IPad as a camera in a stationary position and using the IPhone as a monitor and trigger for taking the pictures. I downloaded it, played with it for a while and then forgot about.

Several weeks had passed when Audrey walked into the room with the IPad and casually said “hey Mum, Dad, have a look at this movie I just made.”

I was completely blown away, she had built a little set in her bedroom, and had taken the time to move her little Smurf characters ever so carefully frame by frame around on her bedroom floor. Then I realized she’d actually imported all of this into IMovie as well as importing music. She was able to accomplish all on her own on one Saturday afternoon what had taken  me an entire term to do at film school. At no cost! (after purchasing the IPad of course)

The even more amazing thing is that I hadn’t gotten around to showing you how to use the app. yet, nor had I even explained stop motion animation to her.

This is when I realized the significance of the digital revolution. Earlier I mentioned that when I went to film school, the technology was tedious and expensive, well there is  nothing more detrimental to the creative process then tedious and expensive technology.

Since that first Smurf film, my little budding animator has produced quite a few short films, far more than I ever made when I was young.

Being able to create and record almost in real time, allows new artists to explore and develop in ways never possible before. As a teenager I purchased a Super Eight movie camera so that I was able to shoot films on my own, at home. The film for these cameras was just under 3 minutes, and it cost $30 to get developed. This was  in the early 1980s, so $30 was quite significant amount of money, especially for a young person. Not to mention how hard it was to wait for an  impatient artist like myself, because I  had to mail it to California and wait for them to process it and mail it back. A process which took weeks, if not months sometimes.

It is a fitting that I’m writing this piece today because I’m actually in production on a stop motion film. I’m actually working with 12 inch action figures very similar to the old G.I. Joe dolls. Whoops, did I say dolls. I meant to say, action figures.

The first film I ever made with my Super Eight film camera  was with my 12 inch classic G.I. Joe’s,  and here I am at the age of 47 making a film with 12 inch action figures again. Now I bring this up because I have spent most of my career working almost exclusively within the realm of the computer. The type of high-end 3-D software that I’ve been working with is not something I could easily get my daughter involved with on a casual Saturday afternoon. However, because I built a set in the basement of our house to film my new stop motion project. My daughter can quite easily join in and watch and participate in the process. This is an credible eye-opener for me, returning to the analog medium that allows my child to have a tactile relationship with the artform.

When I was 11, I physically held strips of film in my hands and coloured on the with magic markers. This journey allows me to fully understand the process. Just as my daughter did when she was moving her little toys millimeter by millimeter across her bedroom floor. If it wasn’t for this hands-on experience, I’m not sure if she would have enjoy the process of making an animated shorts, or even comprehend it fully.

So until next time,
Robert Waterworth

Robert Waterworth is an animator, visual effects artist and cinematographer. Born in England, then moved to Canada at the age of two. He made his first Stop-motion animated film with the help of the National Film Board of Canada at the age of 11, in 1976. He attended Sheridan College for classical animation, and then attended Ryerson polytechnical University , in the school of film and photography. Robert worked for various production studios in Toronto, Canada until 2008. At that point, he set up his own studio, Robert Waterworth Studios. He still works occasionally in film and television. However, his main focus is now on corporate and industrial production. In 2010, he move with his wife Ezzy and 2 daughters to a small town on the St. Lawrence river. The studio is currently involved in several in-house documentary productions. Robert has a passion for both documentaries and animation.

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