Sunday June 23
A long trip from Vancouver started Saturday night in Vancouver. I am excited about the return to my homeland. Arrived in Jamaica Sunday at noon. Carl Dias picked me up from the airport and filled me in on all the goings on in Jamaica since I last visited in 99. The dollar, which traded at 35:1 US back then has slipped to a jaw dropping 100:1.
I am staying at the Mayfair, a last minute booking as all the hotels in Kingston are booked solid for what I have been led to believe is a massive religious convention. Apparently the Wyndham, a hotel with 300 + rooms burnt down, so space is at a premium. The Mayfair has a nice pool side, slow food service though. I ordered jerk chicken, rice and peas and plantain for lunch when I arrived. Jerk came after 45 minutes, then the plantain 30 minutes after that. I spent most of Sunday afternoon in the pool well into the evening. Don arrived with Steven Umbleby of Bento Box Entertainment at 10:30. I was in bed at 10 o clock tired from my red eye flight. I think I may be coming down with a cold. This is a shot looking out from the Mayfair towards the Foothills.
Monday: June 24
We met up with Fabio Pittaluga, Ivan Gonzalez, Federica Marzo, and Althea Spence from the World Bank over a breakfast of Saltfish and Ackee, festival, dumpling and coffee. What a great way to start a week in Kingston. There are a lot of cats at the Mayfair, I think a couple of them are trusting of me now. I'm a sucker for cats.
We arrived a little after 9 am for our first day at the University of the West Indies at Mona, which is about 20 Kilometers SE of where we were staying. UWI still features the ruins of old Roman style aqueducts, as well as Water wheels which represent the Sugar Works that used to occupy the site.
There were approximately 30 students in our class. There were a wide range of animation talents in the class from none to people with animation experience to a couple of individuals with production experience. All had some form of fine arts training however. The goal was to produce an animation product based on the theme of gender violence and inequality. Initially, we broke into groups of 4 - 5 and brainstormed ideas for the themed pitches. It took some time for the groups to feel comfortable enough with one another to get the creative juices flowing. We quickly narrowed the scope of the project to at most a 15 - 20 second commercial length spot. The initial thought had been to produce 5 minutes or more of animated content.
Most individuals new to animation grossly overestimate the amount of time it takes to produce animated content. This workshop was no different in this regard. Once it was decided to shrink the scope of the projects, the groups started to get the hang of what was being asked of them. Between the 5 or 6 groups, 9 ideas were generated. At that point, we broke for lunch, after which, we re-visited the 9 ideas and whittled them down to 4 concepts.
1 1) Soap and Bleach – A female bleach bottle, and male soap bottle come to an understanding regarding their roles an importance in each others lives.
2 2) Intervention – A group of baddies from all walks of life congregate at an intervention to talk about the harm their lifestyles have caused themselves and others.
3 3) Bad man at cash register – Gun fingers doesn’t realize that his actions cause fear and angst in others. A decent man in the lineup at the cash register points out the errors of gun fingers ways, who then decides to change his approach and mannerisms.
4 4) Flowers in the garden – A group of flowers in a garden are overseen by a mentor / guardian figure. The guardian talks down to the young flowers, and one in particular who bears the brunt of the guardians criticism and slighting. With each beratement, the little flowers lose petals, and wilt. A sign placed in the yard blocks all of the flowers access to light, causing them all to wither away slowly. The choice of one young flower to bend towards the light creates a change among the rest of the flowers, and ultimately their guardian, who was loathe to change in the first place.
The idea for these 4 projects was to give everybody a chance to contribute to the project in a number of ways. I was very leery of the multiple idea approach working well, given the widely varying experiences of the attendees. To put our task in context, at Capilano University, we run group projects over 5 weeks at the end of first semester after students have been working with animation for four months. At that point, groups of 5-6 create films generally no longer than 30 seconds. The projects are designed to push students to the edge of their comfort zones, and usually a group or two never quite manage to finish.
That being said, we were here on behalf of the world bank so I figured it best to follow their desire to see multiple clips borne from this workshop.
I think in principle, going with multiple clips, forming small teams of 4 - 6 seems the right way to go, but in practice, I would rather have seen us create one piece with multiple people working on the same clip. This would have given us a chance to focus on a single piece of animation, and allow us to choose the most completed clip of each assigned shot.
In hindsight, I wish I had pushed this harder.
We came up with a number of job titles that people would have to assume the roles for on these projects, but they were largely just titles. There was no real time to show everybody exactly how each department operated on its own, while fitting together with the other production departments. Everybody put their names down for the position they wanted.
Some of the positions filled up quicker than others, so Althea spent a good bit of time, reshuffling names to other less desirable positions and groups. At the end of the Monday by 5 PM we had our 4 stories, our job titles, our groups, but no board. That was to be the task Tuesday.
We decided to use Adobe Flash, as it was already installed at CARIMAC. One issue we ran into was that Don and I are PC users, and the transition to MAC while not overwhelming, certainly took a little adjustment, especially considering the mice were single button mice, and we really needed the advantage tablets conferred with the 3 mouse button system. We were granted administrative access to the Mac labs, however the next issue became one of network access. The network was WIFI only, which caused problems when 30 odd individuals were trying to access files simultaneously. To make matters worse, we found that when trying to install drivers for the Wacom tablets Don had brought down, only 6 machines could be connected to the network at any one time. If this was not observed, the administrative password failed to work. This took quite a bit of orchestration, and even three days into the workshop was still causing us issue. I am sure the IT guys at CARIMAC were frustrated with my having to summon them 5 or 6 times a day because the password would not work. I give them massive props for putting up with us.
One other point to consider, the choice to use 2D over 3D was a minor issue as well. One third to a half of the students wanted to learn 3d over Flash, so there was that divide in the classroom as well. I believe we were best suited in teaching Flash for this introduction as the learning curve allowed us to move ahead faster than if we had gone the 3d route. Still, it would be nice to give a 3d workshop in its entirety to demonstrate the full gamut of what animation means and what its full scope entails.
After school, Don, Steven and I were driven back to the Mayfair, and had an hour or so to get ready for dinner at Gauchos, to meet with Fabio, Federica and Ivan. I enjoyed a Scotch Bonnet Pepper Snapper with Rice and Peas and Tomato slices. An Appleton Ginger to wash it down. We all chatted, and had an opportunity to get to know one another a bit more. The three have spent considerable amounts of time in Jamaica with the World Bank attempting to engage support at every level of and jump start this industry. The Kingtoons festival and this subsequent training week are what I believe to be the culmination of this quarter of World Bank activities regarding animation in Jamaica. I could be wrong.
Tuesday June 25th
Unfortunately, I came down with a cold over night, largely due to sleeping with the AC blasting on me all through the night. It does not help that the Mayfair happens to be the gathering spot for a lot of local Kingstonians to down a brew at the end of the day and sit beside the pool talking, drinking and listening to music late into the night. Finally, it really doesn't help that my room is the closest to the poolside. Not the best way to start off my week in the tropics.
After a long day at Carimac, we have settled on 4 scenarios for the Next Genderation work shop. The students are eager to get started on the animation phase. The four concepts we brainstormed on Monday need a storyboard which we will tackle tomorrow along with design and character builds.
Many of the students have expressed an interest in 3d animation We downloaded the Maya 30 day trial, hoping to extend the licenses. After digging around a little on the Autodesk website, I figured out how to turn the trials into 3 year licenses. The students were ecstatic about that, and downloaded copies of Max, and Softimage as well. The University only has Mac, so there was no hope to use Softimage for our projects. One annoying thing about the Macs here are that they are one mouse button mice. The only way to work around this would have been to get the tablets installed correctly so we could make use of their 3 button features. Unfortunately, the variety of tablets we brought down, combined with the admin login issues conspired against us, and we were never really able to get the Mac’s working properly with the tablets and Maya. All we could do was to orbit our scenes in Maya. Fortunately, the students have been very cool about the whole thing, and have been a lot of fun to be around. Their demeanours are light hearted, open and warm. We truly feel welcomed here.
After the classes, Don, Steven and I met up at the Mayfair pool for a red stripe and some water.
Don, myself, and Steven Umbleby from BentoBox Entertainment in LA met up with Federica and Althea from world bank for dinner tonight at Scotchies in Kingston, an amazing jerk house. We ordered one and a half jerk chickens, half a pound of jerk pork, bammy and festival to round out our meal. It was very tasty. Tomorrow morning, Don and I are having breakfast at the High commission of Canada at their request. The commission is about a 5 minute walk from the Mayfair.
Wednesday - June 26th
The bloody air conditioning finally got the better of me and I awoke with blocked sinuses, and a head cold compounded with a bout of vomiting from 3 - 6 AM. The thought of being in an air conditioned class room all day with my coughing, nausea, hunger and sinus clog pressure was inconceivable.
To top off, Don and I were scheduled to meet with all of the University and vocational heads from across Jamaica at the High Commission at 8 am. Doubt plagued me. Do I stay, do I go, will I throw up? Will I cough myself into oblivion? Will I look like a Zombie staring straight ahead trying to hold it together? Don thought I should stay, just in case things went poorly for me. I chugged two litres of water, took a couple of Advil cold and flu I had fortuitously packed in my luggage, and I went to the high commission. My thought was to stay for the meeting, then walk back to the hotel and sleep it off. The hotel coincidentally is only about 500 metres away from the high commission.
We walked, and when we arrived, a line had already formed. Like good Canadians, Don and I got in line behind the rest.
The consulate feels a lot like a fort, which I guess in essence it is. Triple screened security gates, concrete slabs on hydraulic presses to prevent vehicles from breaching the compound gates. 15 – 20 Foot high fences surrounded the buildings. After about 10 - 15 minutes, of nothing happening I decided we were in the wrong line, and went to the front and buzzed the guard. We were in the visa line, and told to go round front to layer of security 1. ID checks were carried out on Don and I. Like an airport, all metal was removed from our person, bags were screened through x ray machines. Cell phones were taken away from us and put in a safe. Dons lap top which he was to use for a presentation caused some consternation, but in the end he was allowed to take it in.
We finally meet Celia Champagnie, our contact with the high commission office, who officially welcomed us to the compound . We had to clear a second round of security, and then pass through a double set of doors where one had to first close one door in order to open the next.
We met with the various University and Vocational heads, who seemed eager to jump right in talking about marketing, course offerings, infrastructure etc. They were very excited about bringing this type of training to Jamaica, and determining how best Jamaica could service the animation industry. There are still so many issues to consider, this meeting was really just a first step, introducing ourselves, and getting to know the various players we would be working with. Many of the individuals present were interested in our curriculum, our knowledge, and wanted us to come back in a month or so for a whole month of development and curriculum building. The cold and flu tabs I had taken allowed me to hold on long enough to make it through the meeting. To be truthful though, a lot of the content of the meeting eludes me as I was really just trying to keep it together for 90 minutes. At the beginning of the meeting, I realized I had made the cardinal mistake of business travel; forgetting to bring business cards. Lucky for us, Don had his, and all was good.
Don has had the opportunity to help set up animation programs in Malaysia, India, Mexico and China. It was great to work with him during the trip. During the meeting, it dawned on me that I needed to clarify exactly what these Educational heads meant when they envisioned animation programs running in their schools. . The word was being thrown around so much, that I wanted to be sure we were all referring to the same thing. Were we talking, Flash / ToonBoom, Cell animation, Stop Motion, Cut Out, Roto, 3d Animation, or Visual Effects? Were they taking into account the accompanying disciplines that must be considered when offering these types of courses? This would include things like lighting, rendering, Compositing, Modeling, Scene Building. Animation really is a Pandora's box, and without focus, I believe these Institutions will have a hard time succeeding.
Following the meeting and promises to keep in touch, the Senior Trade Commissioner, Rick McElrea along with Celia Champagnie, drove us to UWI, with he and Celia talking some more about the future of animation in Jamaica, and explaining the situation between all of the universities, vocational colleges, and the competing interests in this whole venture. Most of the trip was a bit of a blur to me as the medication started to wear off.
Somehow I made it through the day, came back to the hotel, walked directly to the Mega Mart, bought some night time cold meds, and lots of fruit and water. I hadwanted to take out some Jamaican currency, and thought the Scotia Bank would be a no brainer to grab some cash. After all, it is a Canadian company. My Visa did not work, not did my debit card. So I took my chances with my credit card at the cash register. A rant about dealing with credit cards in Jamaica. As a visitor, credit card purchases must be ID verified, with the ID information being written down on the receipt, and a supervisor visually inspecting the transaction and approving it. Since the pharmacy is in a slightly different areas of the supermarket I had to endure this painful ritual twice. By this time, whatever bug I had picked up was romping around inside of me giving me chills and sweats, so I was grateful to leave the Mart and head back up to the hotel. Steven and Don went off to dinner with Rick, Celia and Fabio along with the winners of the Kingstoon contest. I stayed behind, chugged and pounded fruit, took my night medication and went to bed at 7.
Thursday June 27
Today I woke up not feeling any better. I made the decision to stay behind at the hotel and rest up, which mainly meant staying outdoors and away from any air conditioning. I made sure to walk around and attempt to let the air and heat heal me. I walked the 15 minutes to 30 hope road to see the place where my mother’s family had grown up and where my Uncle Steve had run his antique dealership.
It has been turned into a radiology / ultrasound / imaging center. I took some pictures, and chatted with the workers, then walked next door to Devon house.
Took some pictures, and a couple of panoramics with the camera I had brought along from Capilano U. I met a couple of ladies who worked the gift shop and art gallery at Devon House and chatted with them a long time.
In some ways, Jamaica is still a backward country. The recent decision by the United States to legalize gay marriage in some states was a big topic of discussion while I was down there. Homosexuality is an offense punishable by up to 10 years in jail in Jamaica. The Next Genderation campaign that has been entwined into our animation training, includes a focus on tolerance, acceptance, equality, anti-discrimination, awareness etc. Some of the conversations I had with various workers around the city made the campaign feel somewhat moot, but I suppose everything has to have its beginnings.
Afterwards, I walked home, and relaxed by the pool with my cold meds. Later that evening after Don and Steven returned, I was feeling a little better. I had a beer with the two of them. Fabio stopped by to chat quickly with us about the possibility of continuing the training a few months from now on a larger scale.
Don had a fantastic day, finding a groove, perhaps I was just slowing him down all along, He covered pose to pose animation, lip sync, showed storyboarding examples, breakdowns among other things. Don had prepared some flash files that illustrate the principles of animation, that he shared with all of the students to give them a working animated reference to work from.
Don also started up a Kingstoon Capilano Facebook group to allow us all to stay in touch after this workshop had completed.
With the Kingston portion of the trip coming to an end, I made the decision to forgo a bus ride on the Knutsford express up into Negril for the last 3 days of my stay, and instead hired a driver named Calvin, who had taken us up to the University a day prior. For 170 dollars US he agreed to to cart me up into the country after classes on Friday, instead of the bus doing so at 5 Am Saturday morning. I was a little nervous as driving through the country and mountain regions at night are quite dangerous with the poor roads, lighting conditions, live and dead animals, washouts and ‘confident drivers’. I chose the taxi route simply because the thought of bouncing and jostling on a bus for 7 hours on mountain switch backs mad me sick just thinking about it.
Friday June 28th
Our last day in Kingston. The reality of creating a full production in five days, long behind us, we sat about helping students finishing off the little scenes they had built, or to work out some of the kinks they had come across in the five days we had been at this. It was pleasing to see some of the students achieve small victories begat by frustrating hours working away on the computer. Shantai pulled off a bubble effect for her Bleach and Soap group. It's always wonderful seeing the look of satisfaction when a student completes their first animated work. Many of the students had worked on little side projects during the week, and they spent the day asking questions that would allow them to complete The students were finally starting to understand the nuance needed when animating, and were starting to put into practice some of the anim ation principles Don and I had been talking about. Many of the students are quite gifted designers; seeing their drawings translated into Flash was pretty cool, especially seeing their understanding of working with layers, symbols and instances grow over the week.
At lunch, I went and captured some HDRI panoramics of UWI. I came back from my small shoots and we took a few class pictures out in front of the CARIMAC building.
After lunch, the students worked on their projects a little more. By 3, we needed to start winding down the workshops and pull together all of the work the students had done. With the network being a little flaky, we settled on moving from machine to machine copying the flash content onto a portable hard drive. While Don was doing that, I handed out certificates, we took some more photos, and Don and I collated a list of web sites that the students could peruse for tutorials, forum help and plug-ins after we had left. A few of the students insisted on giving me a good library of Jamaican music to accompany me on my trip up country. We did some outtake testimonial videos as the students were wrapping up. The idea is to edit together a compilation of these testimonials to help secure future funding for this great project.
Calvin picked me up at 5:30 and we were on our way up coast from there.
We took the toll highways through Maypen and Mandeville up over Spur Tree, through Santa Cruz, Bluefields and Savanna la Mar. What a ride. Jamaican drivers are risk takers, but they are very good for the most part. The margin of error on those unlit, pot hole ridden, washed out, narrow roads is slim. Storm downed trees across the road, dog and goat populations just hanging out on street corners as we flew by. Trucks and cars with no lights, Overgrown trees and bushes poke in through the windows as we pass is amazing. I don't know how we arrived intact, but in the same breath, the sure handedness of Calvin driving without stopping once along the way was comforting, and I never really felt in danger along the way.
After some searching for the Tree house Resort where I would be staying, I got into the hotel in Negril at 11 PM after a 252 k drive over 5 hours. Exhausted, I went right to bed. and....
Saturday June 29th
I awoke to paradise, feeling much better; still a bit off, but far better than in the week. I went to complimentary breakfast at Gail’s , had a massive amount of fresh fruit and a good cup of coffee, then walked the entire length of the 7 mile beach. I was higgled and haggled all the way.. At the end of the beach as it happens upon the little town in Negril, I had a couple of rums in a rum shack with a spliff smoking Rasta, then jogged it back to the hotel on the beach barefoot. A few of the boy started to run alongside me, as if they were competitors in a race, but they dropped off as my pace picked up, or they just thought I was foolish for wasting so much energy under the midday sun. I Got back to the tree house, put my stuff on a deck chair, and jumped into the water where I stayed on and off for most of the day. I am pretty content just hanging out indefinitely in a body of water. A storm was brewing, and I could feel the weather change around 3 PM when dark clouds appeared on the horizon. Droplets started splashing down around 4, and a light rain shower around 5, which was welcome in helping cool off the heat of the day. The real downpour occurred when the last light of the day disappeared. For about 4 hours, the hardest rainfall I have ever been a part of beat down mercilessly. It was a great way to fall asleep, to the rhythm of the rain.
Sunday - June 30
I woke at 5:50 to shoot some panoramics of the beach and some clips of the little shops that dotted the strip of beach. I still have a desire to shoot some more footage, and gather some texture reference. I had Saltfish and Ackee for breakfast. Once again, I walked 7 mile beach, then swam the entire way back. I leave for home tomorrow on the 2pm flight. I have loved my trip immensely, and really feel the deep connection to Jamaica I had felt more than a decade ago. I had thought some of that connection lost with the years and with a new family, but I am so happy to note that it is still there. It is sad to see the state of the country, but beneath all of the negativity around the decline of the dollar and Jamaica’s infrastructure, there is a sense of freedom, and vitality, and openness that you just don’t get in a developed, privileged North American city. I would love to return with the family on a next trip. I love Negril, a perfect place for a family vacation. It’s very low key.
Monday July 1
I am leaving shortly, Flight leaving Montego Bay at 2 PM.
In Summary, I felt very good from this trip. I felt like I picked up right where I had left off the last time down. I loved the enthusiasm with which our students participated in the workshop, and the professional way they worked with us through some of the technical issues we encountered. I will miss those wonderful accents and the mannerisms of the people I had a chance to run into. I hope this is the beginning for our involvement in Jamaica. I would truly love to return and pick this initiative back up. Of course, a final few days up country on the coast will have to be factored in.