08. Combustion

How we burn, progress on my animated short "Chamoe," mystery pianist

Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create…Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers. From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane, and when it will fade away. For the time being, our cities still shine through the night, and the fire still spreads.
—W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn


If you feel demoralized these days, you’re not alone.

Everything is on fire. Literally

First of all—I can’t not mention the spectacular, and still developing, implosion of Afghanistan. The toxicity of extremism is matched only by the astonishing stupidity and avarice of the privileged. The obstinacy of the United States. The Afghan “leadership.” I don’t even know what to feel or do or say from my place of comfort and security. I’m seeking education to begin with. There’s no dearth of news and articles, but:

In contrast to this + e.g., climate change, what we’re experiencing locally—scandal-driven political instability, the resurgence of the virus, the indefinite postponement of return, the need to coax people to care, the baffling recalcitrance of the average American—can feel like mere inconveniences.

I don’t know if it’s a defense mechanism during an extended time of anxiety, or if I’m simply able to appreciate things more because most everything has felt dark for so long…but I’m nourished a lot these days by the smallest joys as they come. Paintings, moving pictures, songs, colors.

Just yesterday I dropped by an art supply store to replace a watercolor brush. So many fellow New Yorkers smiled and said hello. The cashier’s “you’re welcome!” was bright, reaching her eyes. An old couple in a car laughed when the light changed, because I must have looked comical hesitating. They signaled for me to go on. I laughed too, and waved thanks before hurrying across.

These were small things, but they carried me through the afternoon well into evening.

I guess “human condition” has come to mean for me an alternating cycle of suffering and good feelings. Also, the consequence of recognizing the nature of this kind of existence.

But it’s not quite Sisyphean—because it’s not just one hill—and I do think there’s something progressive versus futile about that.

What I’m ultimately getting at is that everything is awful, but not everything.

Here, I share my part in our repetitions. Read to the end for a bit of serendipity that a Saturday gifted me through open windows. There aren’t many answers, but there is still beauty. And that’s what gets me through these dog days.

I hope this issue makes you feel less alone, if only for a few minutes.

We’ve so many new folks with us, welcome!—thanks to a boost from a Why is This Interesting interview with Eugene Kan of Maekan—that I’m pushing back the paywall date again. (At that point free subscribers should still receive every, though no longer the entire, biweekly issue).

Deep gratitude to my paying subscribers (members) for your early support! You make this craziness possible.

Become a member ✨

And thanks again to Maekan: an incredible community of creative folks who’ve provided, and continues to provide, tremendous support and encouragement. Check out their new online shop, too. Proud to be a part.

Progress on my animated short Chamoe

I finished painting the second sequence (all but the exit transition, anyway)!

We’re now 21 seconds into my 2 minute animated short Chamoe, a true story narrated by my mother. Cleaned up, the sequence clocks in at 1478 Photoshop layers.

One thing I was reminded of these past two weeks is how sensitive a process it is to color in this style, which uses a texture “boil” (a technique where slightly different rendering of the same frame is alternated to create a wiggle effect, usually with lines). If I paint while distracted, things look more muddled, less intentional. I usually can’t even listen to music while I paint.

I made the mistake of talking on the phone when I began painting this sequence and had to throw out 2 hours of work. I hated how it looked so much that I didn’t even save a snapshot of it. But imagine deleting a sea of frames. That’s what I had to do. Sad.

Anyway, let’s zoom in to see how things progressed:

I always do lines in TV Paint, because it’s an actual animation tool. I’d go crazy if I had to draw keyframes/breakdowns/in-betweens in Photoshop. If TV Paint had a better brush engine I would do everything there. Photoshop extensions like AnimDessin (salut Stéphane!! Et merci 🙏) and Animator’s Toolbar Pro are the reasons it’s even possible.

The plates were supposed to “ride” the waves in and recede before gently settling forward, but they don’t read the way I wanted them to. I *thought* I’d nailed the lines or this but in retrospect they’re quite stiff on the settle. I’m not sure how I missed that. It could’ve just been that I didn’t have the “eyes” to see properly at the time. I’m going to have to be more mindful.

Given the loose textural style, a small deviation can result in details that are quite noticeable, like the girl’s hairline that seems to rise too early.

Hairline timing, fixed; made a big difference! I do love the little peek she does over the table when she arrives. It’s small details like that that I feel most attached to and find charming.

Here’s how it looks with lines turned on. I rely heavily on them to anchor textures while I paint. Also, I’m digging the color shift here—must be due to a variance in GIF compression. The black moving toward purple feels softer. I may propagate this across the board. Happy accidents!

Check out the story so far (sequences 1 and 2) with sound and subtitles. Ignore the text-rendering and timing, I still need to refine that as well as add final sound.

Mystery pianist

Last Saturday, I was about to step into the shower when, through the open window I heard a virtuosic neighbor playing the piano. I was running late but so entranced that I hovered en deshabille behind a curtain for a good 7, 8 minutes while peering out into the trees. I recorded it, vacillating and unable to pull away. The music is faint, beleaguered by birdsong and city sounds. (An audio engineer might call the recording poor, but I call it atmospheric!) Here’s 30 seconds of a late summer morning in Harlem, haunted by a song carried through the branches of trees. Magical.

Life is funny (or Love is garlic)

I cut open a clove of garlic last weekend and found a bit of heart-shaped root. Brandishing it before my amused partner, I claimed from the frugal universe a promise of things to come—romance, longevity, warmth. World peace.

While we’re still here, shine brightly of a kinder fire, my friends—we, a fellowship of cities through this long night. That is the least we can do.

Until next time.