Friday, April 2, 2010

Captain's Log: Supplemental

(Edit: links added)

Sorry for the cliche title; but as I have been discussing my work throughout, I felt as though some sort of, "aside" would work best for this final statement. My work aside, I found that the ideas of art on the internet, or art via the blog brought up in early readings and videos for this course would be the perfect thing to talk about; especially given the "indulgent" nature of my first and last projects.

With my first project, the photos, one of the major criticisms I received that a lot of the meaning in my work would be lost to those who are outside of the various "sub" cultures I am a part of. (if the reason I put sub in quotes baffles you, you probably haven't been following this blog.) This critisim was proved fairly valid, as the interpretations for the first photos surprised and baffled me. I think people brought up patriarchy and the imprisonment of little girls, things like that. Considering I put a chibi (super deformed) cute girl in a cage, these interpretations are indeed valid readings; but they are not what I intended. While I could have done something to avoid those readings, I have realized it is likely that something else probably would have been added to my original intended meaning, also because of the lack of knowledge my class audience had. Even the title of that piece was a reference to a common phrase that character states in the series, and I am near positive no one got the reference, though I was still complimented for it. With my last project, I also had a very strange response. I purposely did not explain much in the last photo in my series because I wanted to see what people would say. I got a lot of responses which were obviously coming from people who were a little confused and were not sure what to make of the photo. The main conversation ended up being on giving emotions to intangible ideas, and inanimate objects; which fantastic due to the theme of my project, that being action figures. Another interesting comment was one which related my work to an old TV series or movie based on Old West toys. The actors (or maybe the actual toys were used, wasn't really clear...) apparently moved awkwardly, and in some cases switched toys in order to display emotions for the same character. That was a very interesting comment, and gave me ideas for future videos. But even with these fantastic thoughts which were less off topic than comparing the theme of my first work to some sort of scary patriarchal villainous behavior, I still found it interesting that the main (and in my mind obvious) theme of that photo needed to be explained. When I did explain it, I got some chuckles as if to say, "Really? That's simple but not obvious at all." which I also found very fascinating from my perspective, though a bit more predictable.

What I learned from the readings and videos, and everyone's comments throughout the class; is that despite spending a good deal of my time on the internet; that space is just as diverse and separated as the world of flesh and matter. There's some crossover for sure, but the internet I experience, the blogs I read, a lot of the places I go are completely different than some other people who also spend a lot of their time on the internet, and we would likely have just as difficult time relating to each other based on those experiences as "real" ones. In my middle projects, I approached them from more of an Educational angle. This gave me great responses, and people seemed genuinely interested. Though both of them were long, both resulted in people telling me they wanted to view the entire thing. I know this wouldn't convert them into geeks or anything, but it did make me happy in a weird sort of way; one which made me hopeful for the promise of cross-cultural understanding. These people couldn't conceive a world where people talk about figure articulation, or differing interpretations of a character, or why people argue about DC versus Marvel; but they were facinated by that world.

When I created my final project, as I stated in my last entries, I wanted to do something based on my culture. Something steeped in not just in the my hobbies, but using specific tropes from the online, anime and manga community. It was a self portrait which possibly only a few people in the world could see as one. I don't really find this a bad thing, as I feel that the images and potential video could have been interesting without that; and open to a lot of interesting interpretations. But the disconnect I had with the class got me thinking. Is there a space for "Art" in the geek community. And I mean, within the community. Now, the main problem here is the use of the word art as the university world has taught it. Simply drawing a picture, or making a video, or making a replica is not enough for "high art." After four years, I still don't think I can say what makes something art and not a drawing. Putting it in a gallery, giving it purpose, having other artists look at it and judge it? I can say that I do see why people do make the distinction; and even if I am not sure if I agree with it, I know it's there. That being said, would geeks appreciate or even get art made for their sake? There have been a few attempts. "I am 8-bit" is an art exhibition based on classic video games. Various toy customizers have also become fine artists, a phenomena from which an entire series of essays could be spawned. While I am against "Art just for other artists", would these works reach normal fans of the subject matter in ways that are not simply "This is cool." or, "I bet this has some deeper artistic meaning I probably can't understand." I am not saying they have to be critical of the art, but I hope you can see the delima I have come across.

If an artist wishes to make art coming from a "subcultural" origin, for that same audience, and still have it recognized as art, it essentially limits that audience to geeks who are also artists, art critics, or academics who could analyze the work.

But I think the internet is a wonderful place because it sort of breaks down those boundaries. And if you're successful enough, then you'll reach your intended audience, and more. I think it also is a place which allows people to do artistic things without being labelled an artist, or do things which wouldn't be considered art, and label your self as an artist.

Though this essay has become tangential enough already, (though for a blog, I think I am being fairly on-topic.) I do want to bring up something that I feel relates quite well to what I am talking about. The League of S.T.E.A.M is a performance art group who dress up at Steampunk Ghostbusters who make videos of them both going out in public, and taking on special effects ghosts. They also do parties. I love this because it seems like something just plain fun, really creative, requires a good deal of ability, and has an element of "making money" via the fact you can book them. As I mentioned last post, the whole University notion of art, or how they present it has been so difficult to understand, that the fact these guys can be considered artists makes me hopeful and just, happy really.

Back on topic to end this thing. When I started out, I set out to explore what action figures meant to me. Why I like them, why I want to tell people about them, why they are important to me. I brought up possible issues of maternal instincts, femininity, masculinity, collecting natures, decoration, cultural significance, sculptural impressiveness, religion, and possibly more. And the answer I came up with is,


Partly everything I listed is why I like figures. It's why I buy them, it's why I will continue to buy them, and it's why I have an deep desire to make my own, or do creative things with them. They're just, a part of my life, and there couldn't possibly be one reason I like them, that's like asking someone what the only reason they like their dog is. But over the course of the term, I found that the real main issue being brought up wasn't my own question of why, but me questioning why others were asking why. The fascination, the confusion, and the interest people showed to my hobby was a really fun thing to experience. Being able to share it with them, and also being able to come to a lot of their own interests and projects from my perspective was really a great experience; and it made me wonder if collaborations would be possible with some other spheres of interest in the world. It also helped me explore and analyze my experience and confusions coming through University in a way I never thought I would have the chance to explore. I also got to play around with toys, which is probably the best part.

I was asked to explore the question of why, and I hope I provided some answers. But more than that, I hope I left some mysteries, and raised more questions.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not very mint condition

So, as I sort of feared in the back of my mind last week, I could not finish the Ending theme song I so dreamed of doing. I had the screenplay all worked out, I had what each scene meant to me and my project, and I found the perfect anime ending/music to go with it.

Unfortunately, I had no idea how involved and time consuming making one of these videos would be. First of all I had the handicap of only Windows Movie Maker to work with. This in itself was something I should have planned way in advance for. Working with my variable camera and photoshop also had issues, and it all resulted in a very annoying situation. While it is probably a mere shed casting of what could have been, I decided to upload the hyper rough cut of the first 30 or so seconds of what I was trying to make; as well as the original Ending.

While I may have failed in my attempt to make an anime ending based on my figures and my life with them, I do have to say, the mere prospect of being able to complete one filled me with more creative energy than I have had in a while. The problem solving for the shots I had to produce, the fiddling around with photoshop knock-off programs to get things to fit, the sheer joy of editing still images in time to the music. The final video was not completed, but my desire to do things like this, and really explore how to be creative with my figures, possibly make my own has skyrocketed.

During the course of this project, many themes came and went in my mind. Collecting, masculinity, maternal instincts, the various cultures I inhabit etc. My last two projects were trying to explain, and share my hobby and interest with others, most notably the non-initiated majority of my class. Their reactions have been nothing short of fascinating, and really fun to watch. I also really liked sharing some of my information and what I believe to be a cultural history with them. But the project I attempted to finish was something quite different. It was a little more self indulgent. For instance, here are some things no one would understand without knowledge of "geek/nerd" culture.

Haruhi Suzumiya: This character is essentially a god. In the series, she has the potential to change the world to her subconscious whim (especially when bored), and fear of world changing events are always hovering over the other main character's heads during the series. My own personality has also been attributed to Haruhi's on more than one occasion. Thus, by showing her opposite me, I make a bored and powerful god girl my partner in my dream-like imaginings which appear in the next images. While my own image may have been edited out in the final cut, this is still significant, and completely impossible for "mundanes" to interpret. (Mundanes is a term used by Madarame in the anime series Genshiken to describe non-otaku.

Nanoha: The scene with the girl in her own box and the angry looking girl outside of the box? These are the same character. Hopefully this is more obvious, as the message here is also much more simple. The series in question here is one in three parts over several years. The first season is a "Magical Girl" series, but upon reaching the second and third seasons, it becomes more militaristic, and while not sexualized, a romance between the two main girls from the first season replaces the more innocent magical adventures of the first season. Thus, this image is simply a sort of reminder to myself to not become the older girl, and to keep the magic and youthfulness in my life even as I grow older. That kind of thing.

Comic Book Store Scene: The characters here are Blue Beetle (III) and Yoko from Gurren Lagaan. I would explain more about them here, but I actually intend to show this image in full as I personally think it is a wonderful image on its own.

Sample Images From my Attempt:

This one was fun, but could have been staged much better

I wish I had somehow got this to be more dramatic, as I really do love younger Nanoha's expression

Both of the above two images seem to deal with characters facing themselves. I wish the background was more clear here...

This is obviously Marvel vs. DC stuff, but it doesn't really make sense out of context from what would have surrounded it in the video.

I love this picture. It is one of many I shot of roughly the same pose, but somehow came out much better. Again, I don't want to explore too much into it right now because I want to hear what people have to think, but while it looks very staged, I like it very much.


So, that may not be the last of this blog, but it may in fact be. I rather like what I am exploring here, so there may be more updates in the future. But I did want to end off my thought I had before I listed the pictures and my feelings on my last two projects.

This one was self indulgent, which decreases my potential audience quite a bit. But, it was also very fun. My interviews and lecture were also very fun, but it in a different way. Though I have been talking about toys, they both felt very professional, and I felt that with a couple extra weeks or months of work, they could be submitted to some actual venues. What I did, and what I tried to do here is much more childish; which is what I would have hoped to present in the video. It was going to end with a shot of me asleep next to customizing supplies or my half-built from scratch action figures. It was going to imply the wonders of imagination, how how much I desire to make my own ideas into reality.

I'll be honest, I am unsure how to feel about what I did, and what I was trying to do from a "fine art" perspective. From a subcultural art perspective, it was probably a huge step for my creativity though. And even in for my creativity in general, it showed me what sort of things I get personally excited about doing; things which eventually lead me back into my spheres of interest. I am very excited to finally try making or customizing my own figure, or to draw some new characters for my fantasy comic stories, or all the other things I don't have the time or drive for due to the University experience.

It was amazing fun venturing out and making contact with those who don't know Booster Gold from Kamen Rider, but it seems that I'm moving back to where I came from, at least for the time being. I hopefully have three days of living in the ("high art" world which has turned me bitter) left, so maybe I have begun celebrating a little early.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It begins... sorta.

On Endings

The final assignment for this project is due next week. And though technically I don't have the second assignment up here yet, (I hope to, but the video is half an hour long, hard to upload) I figure I should address the subject matter of my final project.

In the discussions on where my final project might lead, it was brought up that perhaps I still have not answered the question of "why." I have these figures and like them so much. The ideas of collecting was brought up again, which I dismissed as being a primary reason. The idea of relationships then came up, which seemed more accurate. Some of my best friendships have been partly formed by action figure purchasing and collecting, and there is also the relationship between the toys and myself. I figured actually exploring this relationship more closely would be a good way to end my project; but in what format? Well, after discussion with the instructor we both pretty much agreed that the best solution would be photo and video. And even from that moment I thought I should do a combination of the two.

I had thought about making some sort of photo story set to music and text, which could be quite beautiful, or corny. But I like those kinds of risks because as I like the sound of both of the results I couldn't lose. But then my internal gears started turning, I realized something which should have been obvious. Pictures... Anime Endings (outros), of course.

Now, as I know my audience here in the class knows probably next to nothing about the significance of anime endings (and for that matter openings) I will now provide a little cultural education. As there is no convenient wikipedia page for this, I will have to use text and examples to explain this. Everyone knows theme songs. From The Munsters to the Simpsons, theme songs have been used in television for decades in both animated and live action series. However things differ in Japanese animation.

Anime Opening/Ending Crash Course

First of all, anime intros use songs by actual Japanese or foreign bands, and unlike most American shows, the songs often do not even feature the title of the show or any character names in the music. That being said, the lyrics usually do fit the theme of the series quite a bit and are often commissioned specifically for the series. The music for the theme songs usually fits the genre or energy of the show, with cute light songs for shoujo (romantic) series aimed at girls, and rock, heavier pop, or even things like rap or hip hop in more action or other series directed at a more masculine audience. Unlike most American theme songs, there is often much text on the screen during the opening, featuring some limited production information and music information. The animation used in these intros is most often completely original, like about half of American animated theme songs, and usually uses increased animation and production values. The songs are completely synced to the music and are usually very artfully crafted.

Now unlike most Western series, anime usually have a dedicated ending theme song in addition to an opening theme song. While less effort is put in to the ending theme, it is still a vessel for musicians to get their name out, and they often employ even more artistic or creative techniques to hook people into watching at least the first time. Endings are usually (but not always) slower in tempo; and use either still frame, or more limited animation. Sometimes full animation is used, but it is often only a part of the ending, or is stylized to set it apart from the opening.

It is partly because endings often use artistic still images that I decided to explore them with this assignment. Also, the ending theme song is significant as an ending to the project in general, though I may actually continue this blog. After all, anime openings and endings change every so often. In fact on average, an opening will change every 24 episodes, and an ending will change every 12 episodes. This means every three months at least one new music artist or visual artist gets to contribute to the series and make a name for themselves. Also, as character and plot is imperative to these openings/endings; changes in characters and story are very clearly referenced in these openings and endings, making the change almost a necessity.

These openings and endings are very significant to me. Part of the excitement of watching a longer running series is seeing the change of theme songs. I imagine characters I have created, or even people in my life in openings while I listen to them. Every story in my head I have ever thought of I have set to music and imaginary animation. They are simply a reality of fiction for me. Even in my Dungeons and Dragons group, we always use openings and endings to every session we run. Anime have these openings and endings, some Japanese games have them, but I am always sad that more non-Japanese series use this method to begin and end their series. Some American animation have got close, such as the 90s Batman cartoon, but none have really embraced this aspect of animation as they have the visual and expression styles in some instances.

My Project

So, what does this have to do with Action Figures, one third to half of which I own being non-Japanese? Well, anime openings/endings are important to me, like figures. An anime ending is steeped in references to the series in question, with nods to the narrative and characters everywhere. They are also very artistic, and this is an art class. Also, the still images used in endings mean that it would be an obtainable goal, but if it proves to be too much, I will at the very least have photos to share with the class next week. Upon seeing an anime intro, my instructor remarked that the often used technique of using images/limited animation clips which imply narrative reminded him of Cindy Sherman's work.

So, this has inspired me to at the very least make sure my still images are good enough to stand on their own, as well as be part of an "animated" outro.

To end, I will provide some examples of endings to show where I intend to go with this, or at least what I am planning now.

In order to make this possible, I need to either create a completely original ending animation, or reference one which is both steeped in cultural lore, or uses mostly if not completely still frames.

This intro from the shounen (aimed at young boys) series Bleach was notable for changing every week for 13 weeks, featuring a different set of characters each time. I am showing it because it features a still frame at the start of the song, which is where I am headed. I would love to put movement in there too, but unless I as a living person put myself in there, I don't think I have the time. And even then I would need a green screen, an understanding toy store, or a clean living space; I have none of the above. But as I intend to make this about my toys, which are by definition a part of me, it might be significant if I could play a part in this.

This ending is from the current anime Durarara. This uses almost completely still images, one still image in fact which scrolls down and shows the links between characters. In the short amount of time this series has been out, it has been parodied hundreds of times, using other series characters, their own characters, or even multiple shots of the same character. I'm honestly surprised I haven't seen a live action parody, though it's either a matter of time, or I am not looking hard enough. Now, Japanese and Foreign anime fans have been parodying intros and outros for years, so this is nothing new, and practically an established cultural happening. Almost every opening or ending which has a popular song or interesting animation has been parodied; Durarara is just the most popular one right now. In fact, it's so popular that when I searched "How to make an anime ending parody" in google, I got this:

Wow, it's... exactly what I wanted to do, and done with more effort and skill than I have time for... huh. This person has taken his fan comic based on his figma figures, and thusly made an ending for it; I think it's pretty fantastic actually. So, at this point I am probably going to look around for another song to parody, or maybe just use one of my many Japanese or Japanese-sounding songs and produce my own using stills of my figures and possibly myself. An original video would be easier actually, depending on how creative I feel that day; but I would sort of loose the cultural significance I would get by parodying and putting myself further into the culture, which is sort of one of the themes I am going with for this project. I also need to get appropriate backgrounds, and I am unsure if I want to use "real" backgrounds or animated ones; as the figures are real objects of animated characters... Just one of the unanswered questions left with this project I guess. But don't worry, I intend to make a wrap up statement by the end of next week to reflect on things like that. Well, I don't know how far I will get with this, but wish me luck, or throw me suggestions or ideas if you feel so inclined. Hope this was informative or at least interesting.

(And if not, hey, at least you got to watch a couple cool anime endings)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shelf Discovery Part 2

This is the second part of my presentation; the Q&A section.

Shelf Discovery Part 1

This is the section of a lecture/demo session. I will be posting the second half, which is the Q&A section shortly.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

SHUT UP Shut up shut u- ><...

The idea for these photos came from reading the "What toys are up to" section of (links to be updated) and wondering how I could turn this into something resembling an art project. Being that it's winter, my opportunities for toy exploration were somewhat limited. So, I took my ideas about my creativity being inhibited, and even a bit of my toys being alive ideas and sort of combined them.

The character I choose is relevant, but with emphasis on her character archetype rather than specific character. This character (Shana) is what is called a "Tsundere" character type which is one applied to females. The traits common with this type are hotheaded or brash attitudes, with an easily embarrassed, emotional inside. The mood I tried to capture in these photos reflects my own feelings toward my ability to express myself using toys and figures the way I want to, but I think it also just has a nice moody atmosphere going on.

Bad Apple!! - Stop Motion PV

Here is something I wanted to post in relation to one of the themes I hope to explore in this project. This is the theme of how important culture is to me.

This video has nothing to do with action figures, but it does have to do with cultural impact. The characters features in this video are from a game I have never played; yet they are familiar to me. I know some of their names, and many of the images are completely understood to me. I marvel at the original video, of anime girls moving in such a way that they seem completely alive. I also marvel at the creators ability to remix the original video, it simply shows a fan of the internet anime culture using his talents to express his love for the original video. I hope I can use some of my talents to express the love I have for this (these) culture(s) later on in this course, this blog, and my art practices in general.

If you watch the linked CNN report on this video, you can hear a woman say how she doesn't understand what is going on; and how she'll need to watch it a few more times to understand. I understood within moments. From the second I saw a familiar silhouette I recognized as the character Marisa.

I hope you'll excuse this video post, and I hope the relation to my subject matter is somewhat clear.