Cal Arts 1997, I did not make it into the Producer’s Show. I was hurt for I thought my effort worthy, but not so worthy that I didn’t think there wasn’t anything to learn from the set back . Layout, the logistics of animation filmmaking, was a sorely missed step in making Dear Jesse. I spent two grueling seasons learning layout in my professional life, and with layout wedge tightly in my skill set, I see out to make a film with that skill, less arrogance and an open mind invite feedback and APPLYING said feedback in my grad school thesis: Soleil Rocketship.
Soleil Rocketship also fulfilled the expectation that I would produce a property featuring a positive Black protagonist. The pressure was so intense in the Affirmative Action Scandal 90’s that I hit a creative block on the mandate. I refused to force the muse, so I waited until an idea came upon me organically. Tom Glaser’s Zoom and Little Zoom was introduced to me by Space Jam’s production manager, Jackie Blaisedell. She received the song as a mix tape from a friend and played it aloud during a an playful afternoon of dueling sound systems. She was fun.
The characters came to me as a need to build a consumer product line. I’ve always been a Hello Kitty fan and wanted a similar product of my own, so I developed Soleil. I needed a film to help promote the product, I then thought of the songs and all of the PSA’s that inspired me as a child and everything fell into place just in time for grad school. There were three properties I wanted to spearhead for grad school: Soleil Rocketship, Detour Thru Your Mind and my graphic novel, Superficial. Taking the advice of the late, great Corny Cole, I chose the non-epic and completed Soleil Rocketship in time for graduation.
I learned a lot during my painful tenure on Futurama and Dilbert, mainly how to cut corners to beat a deadline without compromising the quality of the film. Mondo Media taught me to never trust Flash not to corrupt files. Learning about festival rights while trying in vain to request rights from Madonna taught me to never pour my heart into a film with restricted song rights. It makes the effort of designing the film futile because you can not license your character designs to promote the film.
The pipeline for Soleil Rocketship was character design, assets, layouts and keys in Adobe Illustrator. Inbetweens in Flash and post in After Effects. Post turned out to be the demon in the details because the 24 fps frame rate doesn’t exist on the web, so the film is out of synch in the 30 fps compression. The techie revolution not only de-standardized job titles, but they took liberties with set in stone animation frame rates. Character animation doesn’t perform so well on 30 fps. 30 fps creates an “un canny valley” in character animation timing. No wonder experimental animation mainstays like motion graphics and effects is seen more than character animation nowadays. Good for experimental animation. Not so good for characters—especially if they dance are “mickey moused” for nothing will sync properly.
Soleil Rocketship was an academic success and fulfilled the hole in my heart from the failure of the Producer’s Show. Despite it being for another school, Cal Arts’ Frank Terry was happy I persevered. It was reassuring that I was still dear in he and Corny’s heart despite my disappointing Frank’s predecessor, Becky Bristow, which brings me to my next point. If you are a student, it is important that you make you alma mater proud with a formidable thesis. Not only are you an emotional investment as a student, but you also serve as a feather in the cap of the school. I was not a feather in the cap of Cal Arts as a filmmaker, but I must remind myself that I represented them well as a character designer and developer at the studio.
Regardless, this is not enough for Ms. Bristow. Dear Jesse remains unfinished and that was the film she wanted to represent her tenure as department director and the payback for the scholarships I received. I’m sure many successful people are kept awake at night for some expectation they haven’t fulfilled for their mentors. I am no different. However, Soleil Rocketship proves that I can take direction and successfully execute a simple story. I am pleased to announce that Father time himself has seen to the possibility for Dear Jessie’s completion. For both technology and the music rights are aligned it’s favor.
Work with your boundaries.