Monday, June 29, 2009

Bill and Buster in: "Subtraction from Audition"

Back in 2006, part of the many assignments for completing my Graphic Design degree was to create some sort of project for myself, using the tools I had learned. I decided to create a short comic story by sketching out a storyboard and using it as a guide for an all-digital comic in Illustrator. I found that my characters really work better outside the limitations of Adobe Illustrator, but it was a fun experiment that turned out better than I thought it would.

I hung onto the original sketches, though, simple as they are. I liked the energy of them. I discovered the wonders of Adobe Soundbooth a while back, and realized that while I don't have the time or resources as of yet to animate something like this in Flash, I can arrange drawings in a sequence and record voices for them. I decided to take that old storyboard and play around with that idea. After lots of trial and error over a long period of time, picking it up and putting it down again off and on, I came up with this little animatic.

Yes, that's me as Bill Dawg, Buster Kat, Sam the Coyote, "Doc" and "Horace". I need to work on a more distinctive voice for Buster...but I think I got his personality well enough.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Saga of "Looney The Way It Is"

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons. I have an ebarrassingly large collection of random crap related to Looney Tunes, and I have contributed to websites devoted to keeping their legacy alive since I was in high school. I am also a huge fan of music. Throw in my love of fooling around with video editing, and you've got my series of music videos using footage from these old classics set to popular music.

The Dave Matthews Band previewed the release of their currently # 1-ranked album, "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King", by releasing a single for free. The lyrics of the song, "Funny the Way It Is", lent themselves to the cartoon video treatment, and I made a video called "Looney The Way It Is." I put it up on Youtube, and it caught the attention of the band, and they have since endorsed it via their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Dave Matthews himself called me a "clever bastard" for making it...and I have been offered tickets to see their show here in Austin in October.

DMB fansite Weekly Dave Speak contacted me for an interview about the video, which you can read HERE.

The video, below, has since gained over 35,000 views, and I've been told that most of the band's fans liked it better than the official video they created for it. Neither Warner Bros. nor Dave Matthews have sued me. WIN!

Billy Mays: 1958-2009

TMZ reported this morning that Billy Mays, the iconic infomercial spokesman for such products as Oxi-Clean and Mighty Putty, has died.

I find it slightly spooky that this is the fourth sudden celebrity death in one week, after the passings of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

Billy Mays' death is especially sad, though, because he is one of the few people I can think of who became a household name just by doing his job. For all practical purposes, this was a normal guy with the gift of a distinctive, loud voice, and whatever "it" is that gives a person the uncanny ability to sell anything to anybody. No, I never bought any of his products...but I have sat through more of his advertisements at 1 in the morning than I'd like to admit. Something tells me God himself just signed up for 3 easy installments of $19.95, plus shipping and handling.


I just went to see Disney/Pixar's "Up". I had heard really good things about it, and since the weather was too hot to even bother doing something productive today, I decided to check it out.

Boy, was I impressed. I don't think I've ever seen a Pixar film that I didn't like, and this was no exception. For those who haven't seen it, I won't give too much away, but I will point out some highlights. The basic premise: an old man named Carl Fredricksen, faced with the prospect of being forced from his beloved home and sent to a retirement complex, decides to honor a promise he made to his late wife, Ellie. That promise? To go see Paradise Falls, a remote and largely unexplored wilderness in South America. A few thousand helium balloons later, Carl and his entire house are on their way to South America, unintentionally taking Russell, an eager young boy determined to get his next "wilderness Explorer Scout" merit badge, with him. What follows is a classic adventure story in which Fredricksen and Russell get mixed up in a conflict between Fredricksen's childhood idol, an exporer named Charles Muntz, and a rare and colorful bird dubbed "Kevin".

Muntz has devoted his life to capturing this bird, and has been camped out in the valley for many years with his trained dogs (outfitted with collars which allow them to talk), having vowed never to return to civilization without the bird. This would be all fine and dandy, until we realize that Muntz has gone a little the point that he's like Captain Ahab, Colonel Kurtz, and Wile E. Coyote all at once. All "Kevin" wants to do is be left alone to tend to her children (The bird's gender is not apparent to young Russell until later.)

"Up" is really a powerful little film not for what it IS, but for what it ISN'T. Like all of Pixar's best works, the film shines because of its respect and reverence toward its characters. They could have easily made the film tasteless and low-brow, with lots of "old man" jokes, fat-kid jokes and toilet humor. Instead, Pixar has made the characters as real as they can personality-wise, and any humor derived from Carl's age or Russell's chubbiness is logical and believable, rather than forced or cruel. Carl has a stiff back and walks with a 4-pronged cane outfitted with tennis balls, and Russell likes chocolate.
The real heart, though, comes from the backstory of Carl Fredricksen. The first 7 minutes or so of "Up", though it has very little dialogue, is as touching as anything you'll see on film, in any medium. Pixar are in a class all by themselves with their ability to take any digitally animated character, no matter what he/she is or looks like, and make them completely human and sympathetic.

Contrasted with the roughly 15 minutes of torture I endured via the previews for upcoming CGI/animated fare from other studios, that's truly a remarkable feat. Pixar has made another masterpiece, and the best thing the non-Pixar arm of the Disney empire can come up with for an answer is a preview for a movie about guinea pigs...with four, count 'em FOUR, poop jokes in less than one minute. Pixar has once again taken audiences beyond expectations. They've literally and metaphorically made it to Paradise Falls...and nobody else can catch them. Bravo, Pixar!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Proper Introduction

"Come writers and critics, who prophesize with your pens. And keep your eyes wide. The chance won't come again ..."
-Bob Dylan

I woke up today and realized that I haven't kept a diary or any sort of permanent log of my thoughts and experiences in a long time. The things I've written and the thoughts I've expressed have been scattered all over the place. I have written the occasional piece on my Myspace page, or Facebook Notes, or just scribbled notes or typed stuff and filed it away in the bowels of my computer for future use.

I used to keep a regular blog in college. For the most part, it was a private collection of thoughts about that period in my life, as it was unfolding. I shared it with a few close friends, most of whom kept similar records of their activities. It came at the insistence of some close friends who had the same problem I do: a mind that works overtime and an inability to keep a lid on it. Some would view that as a blessing, and it has its advantages. But it also has a downside: it results in getting to know the taste of ones own foot very well. Keeping a blog really helped gave me an outlet when my thoughts boiled over. People who wanted to hear them could, and those who did not were spared.

Before you continue, whether you are a friend, acquaintance or total stranger, there are some things you should know about me and about the kinds of things you are likely to read here.

* I firmly believe that there is a God. I believe that God created the universe, and us, the human race. I believe that He came to live among us as a fully human man, by the name of Jesus Christ, subjected Himself to the trials and tribulations we face in order to better understand us, and ultimately forgive us for our flaws. If we believe that, we will ultimately join our creator for eternity after we're done with this life. If you do not believe this, I will not judge you for it. However, I will not self-censor my opinions on the subject to be politically correct and make you happy.

* I am a huge fan of cartoons, whether in animation or print. I believe they are possibly the ultimate form of personal expression at their best. The incredible power and legacy of the art form has been marred by the notion that all cartoons are meant for children, and that those meant for adults have to be crude, vulgar and amateurish. Expect to read many entries regarding cartoons and comic strips.

* I believe that humor is the ultimate therapy. I'll make fun of stuff on here, frequently. If you don't like to laugh at stuff, don't bookmark this page!

* I am not a musician, but I have great respect for music. I believe that songwriters today are the equivalent of poets in historical times. Every great song should stand on its own as poetry, or so the troubled but classic Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt said. I have no musical talent personally, for several reasons: one, I'm not patient enough to learn music. Two, my hands are too big to play guitar comforatably. Three, my elementary school music teacher was a cruel, horrifying woman who called her students "do-nothin', no-nothin' bumper-gums", and somehow thought that a third grader could make a cheap plastic flute called a "recorder" sound good and was eternally bitter because it was always proven false.

* I draw all the time, and I have a scanner. I am a graphic designer and cartoonist. Expect to see lots of images.

*The handful of previous posts on this blog, which I just created tonight, are collected from the aforementioned Facebook and Myspace ramblings that would have gotten lost in the shuffle otherwise.

All that said...enjoy, bookmark, and stay tuned! Mighty Matt is back!

The Alarming Generation Gap: As Illustrated by the Lyrics of Bruce Springsteen and Billie Joe Armstrong

I’ve always been interested in good songwriting, especially songs that tell a story. I find it interesting that some of the most recent songs by well-known American artists have been so broad. Broad, as in, contemplating the state of our country. Bob Dylan did it in the 60’s, so it’s not a new concept…but look what HAPPENED in the 60’s. Lots of really bad things. Many people honestly believed they were changing the world for good, but ended up damaging a good bit of America’s core ideals. Why? Two generations turned their backs on each other, and both essentially turned their backs on God Himself. I’m afraid the same thing may be happening in our time. People are so divided in their beliefs and ideals that nothing is accomplished but collateral damage from the fight.

I’m not drawing any particular conclusion here, but take a look at how different the viewpoints are between Bruce Springsteen and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. Springsteen is roughly 60 years old, born and raised in New Jersey. Armstrong is about 30 years his junior, a California punk. Both write very broad songs, but it is incredible how different their outlooks are.

Read the lyrics to Springsteen’s latest, “Working on a Dream”. It acknowledges that times are tough, but it is also hopeful, the old “work hard and keep plugging” attitude he’s known for.

Working on a Dream
-Bruce Springsteen

Out here the nights are long, the days are lonely
I think of you and I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
Now the cards I've drawn are a rough hand, darling
I straighten the back and I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
Though sometimes it feels so far away
I'm working on a dream
And i know it will be mine someday
Rain pourin' down, I swing my hammer
My hands are rough from working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
Though trouble can feel like it's here to stay
I'm working on a dream
Well our love will chase trouble away
I'm working on a dream
Though it can feel so far away
I'm working on a dream
Our love will make it real someday
The sun rise up, I climb the ladder
The new day breaks and I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
Though it can feel so far away
I'm working on a dream
Our love will make it real someday
I'm working on a dream
Though it can feel so far away
I'm working on a dream
And our love will make it real someday

Compare that to Green Day’s upcoming release, “21st Century Breakdown”. There’s even a reference to Springsteen (though an earlier, better known song of his.) But WHOA…big difference!

"21st Century Breakdown"
-By Green Day

Born into Nixon, I was raised in hell.
A welfare child where the teamsters dwelled.
The last one born, the first one to run,
My town was blinded by refinery sun.

My generation is zero.
I never made it as a working class hero
21st century breakdown
I once was lost but never was found.
I think I'm losing what's left of my mind.
to the 20th century deadline.

I was made of poison and blood.
Condemnation is what I understood
From Mexico to the Berlin Wall
Homeland security could kill us all.

My generation is zero.
I never made it as a working class hero.
21st century breakdown,
I once was lost but never was found.
I think I'm losing what's left of my mind.
to the 20th century deadline.

We are the cries of the class of 13
born in the era of humility
we are the desperate in the decline
raised by the bastards of 1969!!!

My name is no one, your long lost son
Born on the 4th of July
raising the bygones of heroes and cons
left me for dead or alive

There is the war that's inside my head
that questions the results and lies
While breaking my back til I'm damn near well dead
When enough ain't enough to survive.

I am an agent, a worker, a pawn
my debt to the status quo
the scars on my hands are a means to an end
it's all that I have to show

I'm taking a loan on my sanity
for the redemption of my soul
well I am exempt from this tragedy
and the 21st century fall

Praise, Liberty
the freedom to obey
it's a song that strangles me
well, don't cross the line

Oh, dream American dream
I can't even see
from rainstorms til dawn
Oh, bleed America bleed
believe what you read
from heroes and cons.

How did we go from a generation of people with hope and optimism in the face of hard times to a generation of people who feel hopeless, bitter and powerless? The sad thing is, Bruce and Billie Joe are only 30 years apart, yet have radically different viewpoints on the same issue. We as a country need to wake up and see this dichotomy, and we need to address it quickly. There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s not the Republican logo. This is an alarming conflict of world views, and I fear for our nation because of it. While both are very well-written songs, I’d much rather live in a country that worked like Bruce Springsteen’s ideal, and not like Billie Joe Armstrong’s…

Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown Review

The following is my review of the new Green Day album, "21st Century Breakdown". I have included my impressions of the "storyline", the music itself, the lyrics and their meaning, and the overall feel of the album.

If Green Day's 2004 classic “American Idiot” was a vehement denouncement of the George W. Bush “era”, “21st Century Breakdown” is a confused observation (or anticipation) of the aftermath. Unlike its predecessor, the album seriously lacks direction and focus. The first single from it, “Know Your Enemy”, has Billie Joe Armstrong (or at least the characters whose viewpoints he illustrates) asking “Do you know your enemy?” Perhaps the point of this entire album is that, within its “universe”, there’s no definitive answer to that question. It is what I like to call a “Zeitgeist Album”…an attempt to capture the current sentiments of a period in time.

Like “Idiot”, this album is also a loosely constructed “rock opera”, though with a smaller cast of characters this time: Just Christian, a disillusioned, angry young man, and his also-disillusioned (but more optimistic) girlfriend, Gloria. Both seem to be taking a deep look into themselves, each other, and the world they’re living in. It’s not always clear which songs represent which character, but one thing is certain: they don’t like what they see!

What they appear to see is universal, omnipresent failure. This is a story of rebels without a cause, but not for lack of trying to find one. All they know is that they feel both oppressed and forgotten by society at the same time. “My generation is zero, I never made it as a working class hero”, the title track explains. In their eyes, America sucks (“American Eulogy”), its government sucks (“Last of the American Girls”), religion sucks (“East Jesus Nowhere”), love sucks (“Viva La Gloria: Little Girl”), and the media has no answers, just static (“The Static Age”). These kids want to fight for something, but there’s nothing worth fighting for anymore (“21 Guns”).

But the story doesn’t really have much structure. There’s no attempt to solve the issues the album spends 18 songs describing, and that is its major flaw. Or is it? That may be the point Armstrong, Cool and Dirnt are making: this is how the majority of America feels right now. Both the album and the country it is “eulogizing” have an uneasy “morning after” vibe. Sort of like the hangover after a house party that went wrong, where your house got trashed and then the cops came…and you woke up the next morning naked in the driveway. You feel uneasy, sick, confused and uncomfortable. You don’t know whether the worst is over or yet to come…because although the bad party is over, you still have to pick yourself up off the concrete and clean up the mess, and probably have a lot of explaining to do. Yet you have no desire to tackle the future because you’re in so much pain at present.

Musically, the album takes a couple of listens to appreciate. Some may call many of the songs ripoffs of earlier material by classic bands and Green Day themselves but each one comes off as a fresh take on old traditions. There are songs that sound sort of like older Green Day material (You’ve heard “21 Guns” before, it was just called “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”), some recall the Who (“21st Century Breakdown”), some are almost post-Beatles John Lennon (“Last Night on Earth”), some that sound a lot like the Clash (“Know Your Enemy”, “East Jesus Nowhere”), and a couple (“Modern World” and, to a lesser extent, “Christian’s Inferno”) that flat-out ape the Ramones.

Lyrically, Billie Joe Armstrong has never been deeper or darker. This is the only Green Day record I’ve ever heard that strikes me as completely depressing. Not to say that Armstrong’s gone “emo”. The material’s too smart to be called that. He’s almost the dark, hopeless polar opposite of Bruce Springsteen. His lyrics are the hopeless yang to Springsteen’s optimistic yin. He’s not QUITE as lyrically clever as Bob Dylan, but every bit as observant. He’s as bitter and acidic as Kurt Cobain, but not as chilling. He’s got zero sense of humor here, songs like “Long View” or “King for The Day” are nowhere to be found. So much for the “Hope” and “Change” of the so-called “Obama Era”!

My favorite part of the album’s three “acts” is by far the third, entitled “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades”, 7 songs divided into 5 tracks. In particular, “The Static Age” and the “American Eulogy” trilogy (comprised of three songs, “American Eulogy”, “Mass Hysteria”, and “Modern World”) echo my sentiments exactly, whereas much of the rest of the album’s material is just too gloomy for me to fully embrace.

“Modern World”, a Ramones-esque denouncement of a world progressing too fast for comfort, states “I don’t wanna live in the Modern World”. I feel Green Day’s pain on that one. But while it’s an enthralling, deep, at times catchy and brilliantly realized place to visit, I wouldn’t want to live in THEIR world either. They may not believe that hope, faith in God and love can get our country and our world out of the rut it’s in, but I do. The album’s vision is masterfully constructed…but I really, REALLY want to prove it wrong.

15 Photos That Seem To Be Mandatory on Facebook

15 Photos that seem to be mandatory on Facebook:

1. The “Best Face Forward” photo. For guys, it’s the photo of you in the suit and tie or tuxedo, taken 3 or more years ago and cropped to remove your ex-girlfriend. For girls, it’s about the same, except in a nice dress, with hair and make-up done, and cropped to remove your ex boyfriend.

2. The “My pet and I” photo. Everyone has a photo of themselves hugging a dog, petting a cat, or fondling a small animal.

3. The “Family Portrait” photo. This is you and at least one member of your family, posed in front of a significant backdrop, be it the family house, or ranch, or hometown landmark, or favorite vacation spot.

4. The “Night I got Really Drunk” photo. It’s that one photo you don’t remember, even if you have a photographic memory, because it involves you holding an alcoholic beverage and doing something stupid, taken at a weird angle by your best friend.

5. The “Night My Friends Got Really Drunk” photo. Same as above, except it’s of the friend or group of friends who took photo # 4.

6. The “I Saw My Favorite Band Live” photo. Usually, this is a picture of yourself in the 90th row of a huge concert, smiling, with the band in the background, out-of-focus and the size of ants.

7. The “ Me When I Was Younger” photo. This can be a baby picture, a picture of you as a little kid, or one of you in high school.

8. The “Relationship” photo. This one involves you hugging your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband. If you’re lucky enough to have either of the above.

9. The “Weird But Cool” photo. This involves a random, funny, or just plain strange image your camera captured once. Such as a funny restaurant sign, an animal doing something strange or funny, or anything that makes someone else laugh and/or scratch their head looking at it.

10. The “Horse Photo”. It doesn’t matter if you ride horses, train them, admire them, or despise them. Everyone has a photo that in some way involves a horse.

11. The “Funny Hat’ photo. May or may not coincide with #4…but it involves an unusual object placed on your head. Many of such photos involve items not necessarily intended for use as a hat.

12. The “Sports Photo”. This one depicts you playing, or attempting to play, a sport. It can also be a photo involving your favorite sports team, whether you’re in it or not.

13. The “Emo” Photo. A picture of you in a bad or intense mood, often including Photoshop tweaks for dramatic effect.

14. The “Vacation Photo”. A picture of yourself in front of a monument, pretty scenery, or other location from a vacation.

15. The “Caricature Photo”. This can be an image of the picture some guy at a carnival drew of you, or you as a “Simpsons”, “South Park” character, you morphed in Photoshop, or other internet program-generated exaggeration of yourself.

Sunrise vs. Bumper Stickers

Sunrise vs. Bumper Stickers
Originally written as a Facebook post, April 6, 2009

As I was driving to work today at 6:45 in the morning, I hit the endless stoplight at Burnet Road and Braker Lane. Usually it’s good for at least three full minutes, which isn’t that long, but at a stoplight it can be an eternity. I changed the radio station- really don’t care about the local car lot’s hail sale first thing in the morning, especially when it’s being screamed at me. I looked around, and noticed something awe-inspiring.

The last few weeks, it’s been either still dark or cloudy when I have left for work. Today, though, I saw the sunrise. It was an especially pretty one, full of yellows, reds, and oranges with a hint of blue on the edges of a few stray clouds. It looked like old-time Technicolor, and made the stoplight seem a little less significant.

I drove the last couple blocks to work, looking at this sunrise the whole time. I pulled into the parking lot, and noticed there were more cars than usual…we got some new people for the new indexing project. I pulled up next to a truck covered in colorful bumper stickers, and of course, read them as I got out of the car.

“Religion Kills Thought.” “Darwin: The Amphibians Can’t Be Wrong.” A Christian fish symbol with 2 stick-figure legs. The biggest and boldest of them all said “He Died in 33 A.D., Get Over It”.

Yes, it would seem I had parked next to an Atheist. This didn’t offend me, but it did get me thinking. I looked up at the sky with its pretty sunrise, then down at this truck. I thought “Hmm…if God died in 33 A.D., I wouldn’t be seeing that sky up there.” What did the owner of this truck, who must have seen the same thing I had on their drive, think of it? I know that there are people in the world, some of whom I call friends, who find it hard to believe that there is a higher power responsible for our daily existence. Personally, and especially when looking at things like this morning’s sunrise, I find it hard to believe that there ISN’T.

This person, with their witty bumper stickers, obviously believed strongly in what they said, and made sure they communicated that belief loud and clear. But what sadness that implied! This stuff, when you think about it, implied that this person had nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for. That the only reason they were on this planet, driving this colorfully-decorated truck into the brilliant sunrise, was because a fish randomly decided to breathe air. And since they believe Christ died in 33 A.D., and that religion kills thought, they’re certainly not looking forward to being anything more than what they are right now. With a mindset like that, I’m surprised they were even bothering to go to work in the morning.

I’m not trying to say that certain animal species don’t adapt and change with their environment. So do we, if you think about it. But for thousands of years, we’ve still remained essentially human, and we have managed to keep from destroying ourselves. I just can’t believe that we became what we are by chance. Besides, why would we be conscious of things like the colors in a sunrise, or the adaptations of fish in nature, or even the curiosity about where we came from if it didn’t matter? I don’t think the amphibians think too hard about that sort of thing.

I believe that religion doesn’t kill thought, but makes it possible. I believe that God created everything in the universe, and that includes fish, frogs, sunrises, and us. It may work so much like clockwork that we ignore it most of the time, but that’s what’s so brilliant about it. The sun rises every day, thanks to a specific rotation and orbit of the planet. It’s TOO specific to be random. There was a man named Jesus who died back in 33 A.D., but I believe there was more to it than that, and so do billions of other people nearly 2,000 years later. We believe that Jesus was in fact God, the creator of everything we’re aware of and more, who knew He’d dealt us a bum steer…he had given us a set of commandments and the conscious thought with which to understand them, but He also made us proned to disobey them. So He came to us in the form of Jesus, one of us, and showed us how to live by His word. And just so we’d be sure He wasn’t just a crazy man walking around ticking off religious officials and politicians, he allowed Himself to be killed, showed us He was good and dead, then the next day got up and walked again.

No other living thing in history, human, animal, or otherwise, has ever done that. Nobody’s been dead, stayed dead long enough that they could be nothing but dead, and then gotten up and walked into town to shake hands with the very people who had hours earlier pronounced Him dead. The only thing Jesus asked those people to do with this information was to tell others what they’d seen, that they’d seen it because Jesus was, in fact, God, and just for believing their own eyes and following what Jesus had taught them, they’d spend eternity in Heaven. And to prove THAT, he physically ascended up there in plain view, with enough witnesses that people are still believing it 2,000 years later.

He gave us the choice, though. We can choose to believe that God came to us in the form of Jesus to show us how to live the way He wanted us to, and invited us to come chill with Him for eternity when we were finished with that. Or, we can choose to believe that we’re nothing more than a random accident with no reason to believe anything, and we can go that route for eternity as well…we just won’t find it pleasant, in fact, quite the opposite.

I choose to believe I was saved from an unpleasant eternity by the God who put that sky up there above ....Austin.... this morning. I’d say that was a superior work of art to that truck covered in vinyl witticisms, and I’d like to know how it was done. Jesus told me what I have to do to find out. Sure, He died in 33 A.D., but that sticker left off the ending!