Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oh. My. Goodness.

Did I mention we were going to the big city? I believe I did. And Los Angeles is a big city, no question. Tuesday, bright and early (read: slightly blurry,) we made our way to the L.A. Convention Center. Geoff met us on Figueroa and he took William and Alex with him in to The Conference, SIGGRAPH2008. This is the same cutting edge, mind blowing computer graphics conference that Geoff has been attending since the 80's, when he would come home with VHS tapes of computer generated graphics, rumors of feature length CGI movies, and other seemingly fantastic developments. Maybe you remember the first time you saw "Luxo Jr?" Computer graphics have so seamlessly seeped in to our media, our entertainment, news, our everyday, I think we forget how new it all is... well, new in geologic time. The pioneers of computer animation have been hard at work since the seventies. And since this year SIGGRAPH is in California, we thought the timing was right for William and Alex to have an introduction into the professional, academic, scientific and artistic frontier of computer generated animation.

SIGGRAPH is an adults only conference. La Brea Tar Pits is not. La Brea Tar Pits, Page Museum, is a destination for all ages, and it's the best place I know of to introduce children to the ice age. Max, Maria and I headed west on Wilshire and pulled in to the George C. Page Museum parking lot, and that is where the fun began. La brea is Spanish for the tar, so it's redundant, but there is so much tar, everywhere, maybe it's appropriate to say it twice. Small sections of the parking lot have been fenced off, to protect people from falling prey to the black, sticky ooze that is still seeping up, just as it did 40,000 years ago. But nature has a way of getting out of hand, and cannot always be contained.

Max and I slipped over to a remote section where we found lots of exposed and unfenced tar pools. "Can I poke it with a stick?"
Oh, yeah. I definitely let him "poke it with a stick." He poked it, and pulled it. It came up slow and thick like cold molasses. It smelled like hot, steaming tarmac. Every day about 8 -12 gallons (32 - 48 liters) of tar ooze and bubble to the surface, and apparently animals, including dogs, lizards, rabbits and humans still get entrapped in the tar.

We were very careful. I didn't fear entrapment, but cleaning tar off of hands, shoes and clothes? Yeah, that would be scary!

But, you know, sometimes you have to get up close and personal to learn, to experience and understand. So we got as close as we safely could. And it was really cool.

If you have not been, and you can... Go! It's not a huge museum or particularly expensive. It provides a unique history of Los Angeles, the Ice Age, and a first-hand view of paleontology in action. It is an active museum, where research, and digs are ongoing. And there are creative, interactive displays that make the experience more meaningful. Max remembered 4 years ago, when we were last here, and how he and his brothers tried pulling up the metal bars submerged in tar. It's such an effective way of demonstrating the struggle and strength it would take to try to get out of a tar pit, and probably the futility... it's really hard to pull the rod up, and I am sure it would be worse still with both legs in that heavy muck.

My mom brought me and my brothers here, when we were children. This was the first visit when we were able to visit an open pit, in the process of being excavated. Pit 91 is huge and deep and Maria will tell you "It's stinky." Max thinks he would like the job of being in the lab and cleaning off fossil pieces. This place is where they pull the stuff up... things like the extinct camel, giant sloths, the Dire wolf, saber toothed cats or Smilodon.

La Brea Tar Pits and Los Angeles County Museum of Art are adjacent to each other in the same city block of Hancock Park. Before going in to the LACMA we visited the climbing trees. Max loves a good climbing tree.

By the way, children and their accompanying adult can enjoy free admission to the Art Museum on the second Tuesday of the month. We visited the gallery hosting "The Age of Imagination: Japanese Art, 1615–1868, from the Price Collection." It was beautiful. Max recognized particular Samurai pieces, including armor and katana, favorite subjects of Alex's. I loved this day. We had a relaxed excursion, full of sights and insights. It was a lot of fun.

Throughout the day Geoff was calling me and giving me updates. William and Alex were enjoying the Computer Animation Festival, and Alex got to have a chance to use exoskeletal robot arms; he used the handles to manipulate the robot arms into picking up balloon animals. We made plans to meet, so Geoff could spend time with Max and Maria, while I had my first ever SIGGRAPH experience. My loving husband got me a pass to attend the Competition Screenings. This is a screening of animated short features, special effects, art and scientific visualizations and a preliminary awards competition that selects pieces for Academy Award nominations.

Are you still with me? I am shaking with giddyness. Geeky, geeky giddyness. After the screenings Alex, William and I were sitting front and center in the Nokia Theater to see John Lasseter. Joining him was 2 time Academy Award winning animator Frédéric Back. (Please visit his website.) I was so excited to be seeing and hearing John Lasseter speak, I cannot tell you. What an inspiring, dedicated and talented man, and the funny thing was he was there to introduce a man he is inspired by. Frédéric Back hand illustrated every frame of "The Man Who Planted Trees," inspired by the story of the same name. If you have not seen this movie, I hope you can find it... we were mesmerized.

Frédérick Back is in his eighties. He has planted, with his own 2 hands, the same hands that illustrate such ethereal and poignant images, 30,000 trees. He spoke about the need to steward the Earth and as an advocate of the environment he was moved to hand draw thousands of pictures to tell French writer Jean Giono's story of a man who transforms a barren wasteland into a vibrant, forest, restored and alive because of 1 man planting trees. Mr. Back was grateful to John Lasseter and PIXAR and SIGGRAPH for supporting him and screening his movie, and John Lasseter was as grateful to Frédéric Back for his perspective, his skills in 2-D animation and for being a major influence at PIXAR.

Have you seen "Wall-E?"

Some people, and I know who you are, dismiss animation as trivial, trite, insignificant time-wasters.

Excuse me. I need to step up on this soap box:

Animation, computer graphics, storytelling, graphics software, artists, innovators of an industry that is revolutionizing communication in media, science, sports and medicine... these applications and products and the people of this industry, like Geoff, are amazing and skilled. PIXAR is more than a cartoon studio. It is more than a commercial industry. PIXAR is an exemplary component of a creative force. And SIGGRAPH is an amazing forum for presenting the best of all the applications and frontiers of computer animation. When animation is good, and PIXAR is good, it should be understood that this is because of a merging of decades of effort, study, craftsmanship in many different disciplines, so that "Wall-E" and "A Bug's Life" are more than cartoons. Those stories reflect an incredible history of art, story telling, innovations in technology and developments, and people that work hard, passionately. Those cartoons are a collaboration across industries and across time, and they are pioneers in a field that will redefine the very same disciplines that shared in their creation. And if you think you can blow-off video games too, and you know who you are, you gotta another think coming.

Many years ago Geoff was drawn to a field that was in its infancy. He applied himself, heart and mind, to the scientific, computational and artistic study of computer graphics. Success aside, it has been a journey of love and passion, a quest to make one image better than the last and to keep moving forward. He has worked in business, academia, science, medicine, geology, education and entertainment, and I have a powerful pride about his work. I love people that work, people that can make something, who are curious and creative and willing to get messy, make mistakes, try again and share the knowledge. It's about curiosity, interest and wonder. Those people are awesome. I felt privileged to be in that audience and witnessing the past, present and future of computer animation, and I am, and always will be, grateful to Geoff for making it accessible to me, for sharing his passion.

OKay. Next week: Ub Iwerks: "The Hand Behind the Mouse" and more PIXAR love after the viewing the Leslie Iwerk documentary "The PIXAR Story."

And now, I am going to make dinner, shower, kill ants, feed chickens, unpack, and recover from a day in the big city.


Anna Banana said...

Best love letter I ever read. Welcome home!

Geoff said...

Thanks Honey...

campbellgirl said...

La Brea is fascinating - I didn't know about the museum or the diggings - and it's still spitting up tar. Wow, what a wonderful world we live on. My dad always says 'tar is stuff they put on roads to keep your shoes clean'. I had to think hard about how that could be when I was younger!

I used to see all the SIG journals and proceedings at the university library when I worked there, they always seemed so, well, uninteresting to me. Guess I missed out on the geek gene! It's nice to know that there are passionately interested people out there. Pixar rocks!

Tami @ Lemon Tree Tales said...

I always had a blast visiting the tar pits when I was a kid. But you know, I never realized that La Brea meant tar. Learn something new everyday. :-)

Steve and I just learned about SIGGRAPH the other week when we were watching the Pixar Story DVD at a friend's house. Fascinating stuff! I'm more familiar with the traditional hand drawn animation stuff since my brother is an animator for Disney. Sadly it seems like there's no more room for that hand work alongside the incredible strides of Pixar's computer animation.

Wow, I didn't realize that your husband worked in that field. How cool! And it looks like you and the family had a great adventure in LA. Love the climbing trees too. :-)

Laura Jane said...

Great post

I too LOVE the Pixar works. I've always wondered what Geoff did, I kinda gleaned it was something to do with computer graphics/gaming/electronic arts.

SIGG thingy sounds fascinating. I woulda been a geeky drooler too at that lecture.

We can be geeks and animation fans together. Can't wait to see Wall-E

d.a. said...

The tech stuff is cool (I geek for food as well), but... ENVY at attending the Japanese Art exhibit! *swoon*!

cristina thornburg photography said...

Looks and sounds like a SUPER fun day!

judy in ky said...

Natalie, I love all the geeky, fascinating things I learn from your blog. Your life and your many interests are a bright light in many of my days. I just checked out Frederic Back's website and it is a marvelous discovery to me.
(By the way, how do you add the accent marks on your computer? I feel like there is so much I have to learn from you.) Your Hawaii slideshow was so beautiful. I shared it with my husband, and now he understands why I want to live there some day.

Lesley said...

I'm with you all the way: video games (despite their eye-boggling, mind-numbing effect on my son and his mates!) are just astonishing. If I were a teenager today, I'd be right into it all. (I'm very easily addicted/obsessed by computer games, so I'm steering clear! If my kids want me out of the way for a few hours, they download some new game on my computer, lead me to it and then I'm off on another planet. It's like a mental tar pit for my brain!)
Pixar is simply amazing. And Wall-E was absolutely beautiful to watch. So funny and clever and sad ...
That's one of my favourite little parts of LA. Love the fact that the tar pits and LACMA are next door — and have you ever been to the museum of folk art across Wilshire from the Page?
If you ever come across that really horrendously bad movie, The Volcano, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche, a lot of it is set in that little part of Wilshire and you'll recognise lots of places.
And yeah — how do you do those french accents on the e?

Tiglizzyclone said...

I do find I learn something new every time I come to look at your blog. Thanks for that.

calamitykim said...

I just went and read the whole story and then found the short animated film and it was beautiful. Thank you for sharing that with us- I might not have learned of it, otherwise.
I drag Fred to movies just about every weekend and we saw Wall-E and loved it. I love computer animation and would have loved to have been an illustrator but I am just a quilter/sewer and use very low tech instruments in my daily work. My husband is a controls & instrumentation guy with the county who keeps the water flowing. People don't even realize (or usually care) how they get their water- they just turn the tap and let it flow.
I wish that everyone would or could go back to growing their own veggies and planting trees and thinking about the results of all of the "conveniences" we have at the grocery store- more packaging- more pollution- more crap for the planet.
I am saying my prayers that you guys find a house, a nest, a home.
Your writing is excellent and you really should think about writing a book- even if it were a childrens book about life with (and without chickens). love to you all, kim