Sunday, October 28, 2007

No More Movie Puns

Raiders of the Lost Art, Part VI

No pictures to show. Nothing to illustrate this particularly lame chapter in my life.

I don't want to get too specific with this, because I maintain a policy of not vilifying others on the Rambler, since it's a (theoretically) public forum and since I also just think it's bad manners. Ply me with some alcohol in private and I'll name names and date dates, and I'll probably even offer sexual favors. I'm that easy. But I hold the Rambler to a higher standard than I do myself, if that makes any sense.

So: the very short, completely non-libellous version of events.

As noted, the Atari 520 ST had nothing in the way of an internal hard drive. All software was loaded from the external 3 1/2" drive, and all files were written to and from the same drive. Meaning that any time you saved a file while working in a program like NeoChrome, there was a complicated swapping of discs. So my entire portfolio of NeoChrome art - again, representing a new peak in color and graphic clarity in my illustration work - was all on a single floppy disk.

I'm not sure if I even knew how to copy a disk on the ST. The OS was just so uninviting that I barely spent any time in it, preferring to get to the applications as soon as I booted up. Meaning that not only was all my art on one disk, there was only one master of that disc, and no copies.

I'd like to think that the lack of a duplicate disk was because I didn't know how to do it, rather than just couldn't be bothered to do so. I know that means that I'd rather have been stupid than lazy, but under the circumstances, I think you'll see why.

After having gotten together several pieces, I think my art teacher in high school asked if he could see them, or if I'd like to enter any into a competition, or something. The point was, I needed to find a way to show these files to people who didn't have an Atari ST, and who weren't likely to come to my house so I could show them here. The days of JPEGs, and even common email were a few years in the future. It was still several years before the invention of Mosaic, which was the first program for viewing visual content on the web. Not that I knew anything about the web or even thought of it as a possibility.

What was needed was a color printer - and even those were pretty rare in those days.

Luckily (ha!), another student in the class also had an Atari (not the same kid I first saw with one), and since he came form a family with a lot of money, he apparently had a really nice printer for it, and he offered, out of the goodness of his heart, to print them out for me.

"Wow," I gushed, "Gee golly whillikers! I'm so trusting and naive that I believe that you, a mere acquaintance who I would have thought held me in low regard, will do this fantastic thing for me. Here's my only copy of these files, on the only disk that I have with them on it! Enjoy! I can't wait to see these!"

The prints never materialized.

The disk was never returned.

I never saw those images again.

I found out later - and this could be only hearsay, but I can easily believe it - that the acquaintance in question later used my images and signed his name to them in some art competition.

I can only hope he won. At least there would be some satisfaction in that.

I can honestly say that the CGI wind went out of my sails following that, taking all of my interest in the ST and the Apple IIc and all other computers with it. I started to become fascinated with my friend Pete's complete collection of Berol Prismacolor Markers, and dove headfirst into comics for the remainder of my time in HIgh School, and what little art time I took away from that was spent preparing the types of pieces that would look good in my portfolio. No computer images were among them.

In fact, I didn't do an image on a computer again until my senior year of college, a good five years later. Sure, I spent time in the RISD computer lab - all Macs - dicking around with the MIDI setup and to write what few papers I had, but their potential for art (since these were all black and white, mind you) seemed pretty limited, and I had a lot of negativity built up about it. Meanwhile, two of my classmates pretty much created their own curriculum in CGI, and one went to ILM and the other went to Pixar.

For want of a nail, right? I hope this doesn't make it sound like the loss of that disk completely altered my career trajectory, nor that I would be hobnobbing with Brad Bird over a Silicon Graphics workstation in Emeryville, CA now had things gone differently - I'm a notorious giver-upper, and had I not lost the disc, the sheer difficulty of learning 3D modeling would have made me turn tail.

I should also point out that Pixar wasn't looking for trained computer animators... not a whole lot of them running graduating from college in 1992. They had their eyes out for portfolios that showed a certain level of ability in traditional drawing media. That's why their films are so good - the CGI is the last thing that happens, and all of the color work and design and everything else is done by hand first. A tour of their preparatory color sketches is more than favorably compared to Disney artist's preps for their own classic films.

And I can't even hide behind the fact that I didn't know who Pixar or John Lassiter was. Even though I stopped dabbling in it myself, I kept myself appraised of the startling growth in the industry, and had seen Andre and Wally B., and knew what it meant to the art form. The local arthouse also played several traveling animation festivals, which I always made a point to see, so I'd probably seen whatever other shorts they'd done by that point.

More than anything, this anecdote is an illustration of how my passive, timid and trusting nature left me unable to cope with a situation that anyone else with normal levels of esteem could have managed. In other words: no, it never occurred to me that I could just go to his house and harangue him for the disk. Politely asking him at school and getting weird excuses ("It's at my Dad's office!") was the best I could muster.

So, rather than saying that the loss of the disk lost me a career as a Pixar animator, what I'm really saying is that the loss of the disk caused me to confront what a lame pussy I really was, and that's why I'm the confrontational, demanding, opinionated jerk that I am today.

Well, that and being ignored by girls until my balls were ready to explode.

Of course, I lost my second portfolio under entirely different circumstances. But I think that close observers of the Rambler will note certain thematic parallels.


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