This is the very first blog entry for the animated short film, THE APPLE TREE. This is also my second attempt at a blog. The first was on a personal website I launched a few years ago, which was an attempt at marketing myself. The first entry of that blog was entitled, “The First of Many…”. It was the only entry ever made. I learned to forgive myself since I had just become a father for the third time, and time itself was a commodity.
I’m sure my indifference to blogging on that first endeavor was that I was falling in love with my son, Antonio, and also that I have no affection for talking about myself. Most filmmakers ooze narcissism. They should. They have to. It’s part of the gig. I don’t care. I find it tiresome and pretentious. However, since the aborted blog experience I have produced a work of art that means an awful lot to me. This means I’m confident that I’ll have plenty to say about it in the coming year and I do hope you’ll pop back here for a visit and update from time to time. Having typed all this, and assuming you’ve had a chance to hop around THE APPLE TREE’s website, I suspect there is a question or two about character modeling.
On the CREW page, you may have wondered why there are only two female character models credited. A glance through the STILLS section clearly shows that there are four characters in the story, two male and two female. The short answer is that the main character, Tommy Willis, is based on three people. All three served a different purpose in bringing Tommy to life. The character of “Grizz” came simply from the nickname of an old high school acquaintance who most likely played football, and variations of strange young men I used to see wandering the streets of New York City. Way back in 1984, I had been mercilessly dropped at the corner of 34th Street and 9th Avenue by my parents. I was terrified by the imminent start of my freshman year at the School of Visual Arts. I remember taking the long walk to 23rd Street, seeing many strange people and thinking to myself, “That guy has white hair and very strange colored eyes.” Fast forward about 30 years. I needed a villain. Grizz was born of the haze of my Manhattan period.
But back to Tommy. As I was working on the early shots, I found myself noticing certain things about his look. His expressions were familiar. Then it hit me. I had subconsciously based Tommy on my longtime collaborator, Joe Kraemer. Long story short, I had met Joe when he was all of 11 years old. We’d attended the same high school, five years apart. Since then, not only has he scored every film or misguided video project I’ve ever made, I have directed him as an actor twice. His facial expressions drew you in and constantly made you wonder what was going on behind his eyes. Perfect for movies.
I put him through an arduous shoot in the summer of 1986, then again in the summer of 1987. Two different movies, two different characters. More than once I subjected the poor kid to my explosive temper. I would say I wore him out in more ways than one. But he has remained a loyal and ridiculously talented friend.
I have to admit that once I realized this, animating Tommy became less of a chore. It just felt like spending time with an old friend that I don’t see nearly enough of. Joe leads a very busy life and is currently working for director Christopher McQuarrie and mega-movie star Tom Cruise. I’d say he’s arrived. So I naturally could not call him up and ask him if he could show up and do character modeling work. Prior to starting work on THE APPLE TREE, I had not animated or drawn much for about 20 years. I was incredibly rusty and truthfully, I’ve always had trouble with perspective.
Enter the second Tommy model in the form of Matthew Witkop. He is the son of one Jerry Witkop, whose photography provided me with most of my reference for the apple tree itself. Jerry came to me through a very close high school friend and is based on the east coast. I have not yet had the chance to meet him personally, which pains me because his contribution to the film has been invaluable. When I mentioned to Jerry that I had no idea what a high angle view of a young boy looking up at a tree looked like, he offered up Matthew, who was similar in age. The two images below provided the foundation for one of the more important moments in the story. To both Jerry and Matthew I offer my profound thanks.
The third piece of the Tommy puzzle? That would be me. Every so often, one needs to know more about human movement than one’s imagination can conjure up. More than once, I had to figure out how many frames a certain arm movement needed, what someone would look like in a crouching position and what a proper “head shake” looked like. Enter my iPhone and self. Why do I not credit myself as a character model? That’s simple. I already have too many damn credits on this movie and I didn’t need another. Did I mention that I dislike talking about myself?
Stay tuned, my friends. Feel free to give me a shout at any time through any of the social media portals in the upper right corner of the website. If you haven’t already, please go to the facebook page and give it a LIKE. I’m always trying to raise awareness of the movie in any way I can. Also, please share the website link far and wide if you would. Being modest and introverted carries a heavy price tag. I’m a lousy self-promoter.
Have a great day and thank you ever so much.