Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Animation" in Portland

Well, better late than never.

I'm not just referring to my blog. (For the record, I was on tour with the Harvard Glee Club until a week ago, which is why I'm posting for the first time today.) "Late" describes a good portion of my experience with this internship.

For instance, I only heard on June 20th that I had an internship at all. That left me three weeks to buy a plane ticket and find a place to live. So, I bought a plane ticket and started looking for a place to live.

And kept looking for a place to live.

On July 13, the Glee Club tour ended. And I was still looking for a place to live. Maybe other people were beating me to the sublets; maybe my inquiries made me sound like a sociopath; or maybe Craig's List just isn't the most reliable way to find housing. In any case, two days before I was scheduled to arrive in Portland, I finally found a sublet.

And here I am. I only got to work two days before this weekend, but I'll tell you what I know. The company is Bent Image Lab ( It's a small animation studio which produces commercials and music videos. It does both CG (3D computer) and stop-motion animation, of which the latter is my interest. I've been working in Bent's art department, which is where the sets, puppets, and props are made, to be used later by the animators on set. This last couple days, I've been cutting paper and gluing it to foam cubes in order to fill a large warehouse set with crates. I haven't been doing this alone; there are three other interns working with me. We're all about the same age, 20 or 21. Two of them go to CalArts, an animator factory, and the other goes to a liberal arts college whose name I forgot.

But enough about animation. What about Portland? Well, first off, I'll say that this is a great town for twenty-somethings. And apparently, that's no secret, because Portland is full of twenty-somethings. Part of it is that the streets are very bike-friendly. There are also farmers' markets all over the place and open-mics every night. In short, it's a town that attracts the easygoing, "herb"-smoking, tattooed and perforated set that likes their music acoustic and their coffee fair-trade. Earlier today, I attended a "cake party," put on by Tooey, a friend of my housemate Kate. (Tooey, I'd like to add, is also the nickname of the carnivorous flower in "Little Shop of Horrors.") Tooey's cake parties are "for friends and strangers," which means that Tooey invites all her friends, all well as anyone she happens to run into at open mic nights, farmers' markets, etc. The draw is that she bakes a cake for each party, and in the cake are hidden secret goodies. Today someone found a slip of paper with an unlabeled phone number, under which Tooey had written, "It was her birthday three days ago!!!" And so the idea behind the cake parties is that Portland's twenty-somethings, uprooted and adrift, friendless in a bike-friendly city, will meet each other over homemade cake and find people with common interests. I should have known that it was going to be soul-crushingly awkward. It was the kind of overbearing awkwardness that makes people pluralize nouns by adding "-ness", as in, "Could you pass the marionberry-ness?" But of course, Tooey had seen this coming, and came to the rescue by providing an activity to distract us during awkward silences: making funny hats out of construction paper! Hmm. Call me a curmudgeon, but I wasn't convinced. I squatted, noncommittal, while men and women five years older than me (and older still) cut and stapled colored paper into creative shapes and adorned their heads with the results. The cake was cut, the drinks poured, the blueberry ice cream passed around the circle, and soon I found myself in a conversation with this guy here in the blue shirt. Turned out he's working with a friend on an animation project of their own. We both liked the Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, and I recommended the work of Yuri Norstein. Soon I had met several other people, all wearing funny hats, and Tooey eventually plopped hers onto my head. By the end of the party, I had tossed the Frisbee, thrown a boomerang, tried out someone's recumbent bike, and sat down to listen to Kate play the fiddle in an impromptu bluegrass jam. In other words, I ended up having a really good time. These cake parties happen once a month. Maybe by mid-August I'll have a friend I can bring to the next one.