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Twisted ToyFare Theater: Robot Edition

13 Mar

How about some TTT for a #tbt? Here are two of my earliest professional stop-motion videos that I created for Wizard Entertainment in 2008.

I was never a Transformers fan. Didn’t watch the cartoon, didn’t own the toys, I couldn’t even name you more than 5 characters. But this one was still a ton of fun to animate because 1) It was funny 2) It was great to delve into a new franchise world after the CHiPS episode I made, and 3) I got to collaborate with a bunch of great folks from the writing and voice acting sides! Justin Aclin pulled double-duty as the couldn’t-have-been-more-perfect Optimus Prime AND Megatron. TJ Dietsch‘s Hot Rod still cracks me up and Anime Insider’s Todd Ciolek was hilarious as Ultra Magnus. Justin, Jon Gutierrez and Zach Oat wrote the bit and I’m still proud of how the video turned out, looking back. I put a lot of effort into  the set and it was also when I began to focus on storyboarding these as best as I could as opposed to just setting up the toys and pointing the camera at them.

This one was neat because the GoBots strip this video was based on never made it to print in ToyFare. It was like bringing a deleted scene back from the grave. And as much as I didn’t know about Transformers, I knew even less about GoBots. Thankfully, the script tells the whole story of this franchise’s rise and fall in case you’ve never heard of them either. You can see that I used a bit of elementary greenscreen in this episode, which bugs me seeing it now. Final Cut Pro is not the greatest place to use greenscreen. I tried cutting out every single photograph to fix the rough edges in some shots, so I remember this being a time-consuming and tedious production at points. Major props to Adam Tracey for voicing the main character magnificently and Jon Gutierrez was also great as Joe Barbera, of Hanna-Barbera fame. Rachel Molino, Matt Powell, Dylan Brucie, Zach Oat and Karl Cramer also provided voices – We had the whole Wizard crew in on this one! It was awesome that people took the time to help out with the production of these.

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Twisted ToyFare Theater

20 Mar

 

I remember the first issue of ToyFare that I owned: Issue # 8, April 1998, found in a Toys R Us and [my parents] bought it [for me] immediately. It had an awesome “Days of Future Past”-esque cover with Boba Fett standing next to a bunch of extremely-detailed “Wanted” posters and I’ve been hooked ever since. Well, that is until the magazine was shut down but that’s another story. It was great to check out premiere images of new toys coming out, sure, but what kept me reading TF was the humor. This issue (and many other older ones in my collection) are now mere scraps of paper held together with Scotch tape due to the number of times I read them, giggling at the word bubbles over and over. They’d get soaked when I’d take them with me to swim practice and they’d get torn when I carried them around in my backpack at school. But the best was Twisted MEGO Theater (later renamed Twisted ToyFare Theater,) the fumetti precursor to Robot Chicken.

I managed to maintain my relationship with ToyFare up through high school and college, maybe only missing a few issues here and there. When  I applied for an internship with Wizard Entertainment (the comic book magazine company and publisher of ToyFare Magazine) after graduating college, I didn’t think I’d actually get it. But, who knows where I’d be if then-ToyFare Managing Editor Adam Tracey (who, like many MANY of the fine folks I met at Wizard Entertainment, is now a dear friend and fellow member of the LAW: L.ife A.fter W.izard)  hadn’t selected my resume and allowed me to be one of Wizard’s three or four interns that summer.

Thankfully, I was living alone in New York during my internship with absolutely no life outside of work. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to take on the extensive after-hours job of putting together ToyFare’s first animated version of a TTT strip and my first real go at professional animation. It was a Marvel-centric strip called, “Bathroom Blitz,” where MEGO Spidey walks into the Baxter Building looking for a bathroom and Mr. Fantastic mistakenly thinks he’s come to join the team. All the ToyFare guys were on board and helped me out with voice work. Zach Oat was Mr. Fantastic, Jon Gutierrez voiced The Thing/Silver Surfer, Rachel Molino voiced The Invisible Woman, Adam Tracey portrayed The Human Torch and Justin Aclin was Spidey. It was a lot of work, a lot of fun, and most importantly: People at the office thought it was good and funny. So I got to make more. But a lot of credit goes to my supervisor at the time, Dan Reilly, who really pushed for me and helped persuade Wizard to pursue more video content. Dan frequently put the videos I worked on ahead of a lot of his other responsibilities and had my back the entire time I worked at Wizard. In retrospect, I’ve been kind of spoiled in my career so far by having many supportive, cooperative bosses.

Our first episode that was publicly released was based on an older TTT strip involving CHiPs. We picked this one because it featured the least amount of “popular” copyrighted characters. I remember there being a long period of time spent determining which TTT strips we could animate and not “get in trouble” because of the properties featured within.

 

I took on almost every aspect of production for this first episode which helped me immensely to become a more independent and proficient animator. I recorded the voiceovers, edited the soundtrack, and pared down the original TTT strip to better fit a video representation. It was also great to have more Wizard folks on board as voice actors, including Rickey Purdin, Matt Powell, TJ Dietsch, and Kiel Phegley. I wish I had saved the raw audio of those recording sessions because I’m sure there were some great outtakes.

Looking back, the pacing of pretty much all my ToyFare animations is soooooo slowwwwww. That’s the thing that bothers me the most. I do see a bit of improvement in the facial expressions with each episode and I also have to remember that I didn’t even know what After Effects was at this point. I was using solely PhotoShop and Final Cut Pro to animate. That second-and-a-half shot at the beginning of “CHiPs Ahoy!” where the General Lee lands and the two cycles follow took me about half a week to complete. Ugh… and trying to greenscreen in Final Cut is a fool’s errand. I had no concept of color correction or how to secure an action figures feet so that they can walk somewhat realistically (see: Ponch walking toward KITT at 0:55)  But I do like how KITT’s spinning license plate bit turned out and animating Danny Glover’s face was fun. The whole scale of it was actually pretty epic. Multiple sets, a dozen or so different characters, more than a handful of visual effects… I must have been a madman to take that on. But I’m glad I did. I learned so much during this chunk of early professional animation work through trial and error, it was absolutely indispensable. It also sparked my professional relationship with many other ToyFare alums whom I still work with today.