Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Loss Hangelis" (or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love L.A.")

30 years ago I moved to Los Angeles to become a character animator. Early in the game I recall a senior effects animator suggest this theory: "You character guys are trying to understand yourselves and the people around you. Effects and layout people are more about trying to understand their whole surroundings and environment."

True, untrue or moot, the theory hit home with me, especially way back then. Even now I notice people first and places later, but back then as a small town transplant to Los Angeles, I was so overwhelmed by my surroundings I literally could not process them. L.A. is universally synonymous with sun, fun, glitz and glamor, all of which can be found here, especially on vacation. But the reality of living here can be harsh. People smile more and honk less here, but other than that you're basically on your own. Naked ambition and the cold shoulder weren't born here, but they took up full time residence long long ago.

Despite these misgivings, somewhere in that first decade I surrendered and found myself gradually adjusted. After a long trip I found I even missed the place and landing in LAX felt like settling into a favorite chair, albeit one immersed in smog. Los Angeles is geographically vast, culturally opaque and constantly self-contradicting: we have the ocean at our disposal, but much of the rest is bone dry. I've lived in the hills, the flats, the 'burbs, in town, and even briefly at the beach. Each has its unique pros and cons. The architecture can be tasteful and discreet one minute, hideously tacky the next, and dumpy and dull in between. Dreams die here but denial lives on. The weather becomes monotonous and sometimes overbearingly so. Yet I always console despondent newbies to watch out: the worst thing about Los Angeles is that it grows on you. I have come to think of it as a friend I have learned to love but not to trust.

More recently still I have finally begun to notice and appreciate the physical aspects of the place, in scope and in detail. The plant life (including the ever present and sky-scraping palm trees) is so colorful and diverse that I never cease to be amazed. The buildings and neighborhoods have a charm of their own. No matter how hard developers try to overhaul the surface with new-ness, the gothic past keeps leaking thu, like the laugh lines cracking thru the botox on a movie star's face. Some days I find myself fairly smitten with wonder at it all.

Lately too I have been spontaneously unable to resist getting some of it down in drawings and color sketches. Some of them are very cartoony (openly influenced by Herriman, Gross and Sterrett) others are a lot more literal, others are just little designs and details. Nearly every night I make time to turn on the tap and see what comes out, and it's turning into something of a backlog. Due to the range of them and the de-emphasis on characters, I have decided to start another blog just for these. Small Room will remain my main blog and dedicated mostly to cartoon art, history and related blather from me.

I'll announce the new blog here when it's ready. In the meantime I'll be posting the usual stuff here and listening to Randy Newman's I LOVE L.A as I do.


A.M.Bush said...

Great post. I've spent the last year trying to draw the not pretty part of San Diego where I grew up. I totally know what you mean by the plants. Looking forward to the new blog.

Pete Emslie said...

Will, most of what you wrote in that post reminded me of the type of inner monologue of some gumshoe found in a pulp detective novel. Maybe you should develop some character along those lines!

I'm afraid I'm also guilty of concentrating so much on characters at the expense of not sketching and researching locales. I salute you on your new pursuit.

Will Finn said...

A.M.-- i never realized until recently that trees and plants are characters too. now that it's started i can't stop!

Pete--LOL--i did not think of that until you said it, but i see what you mean. maybe all that freeway driving primes the inner monologue pump, on detectives and cartoonists alike!

Mick said...

this post needs more pictures in it

Will Finn said...

Granted, but that's what the new blog is for!

Blammo said...

I read this and could not help thinking how great your writing in this post is.
So personal and yet clear and concise.You are a really good writer.
Keep posting !
Eagerly awaiting your next blog.

Will Finn said...

Thanks man, i am blushing!

BTW-- i have not forgotten that you identified Tom Yakutis as the designer behind the old DFE "INSPECTOR" cartoons, which I posted on last year . They remain in heavy rotation at our house and the more I see them the cooler they look--he is yet another artist who has taught me how to interpret the world around me, so thanks again there too!

chrisallison said...

You really got a knack for writing, Will. And you're totally right. LA is like a beautiful woman. There's something you despise but you can't help but be attracted to her. I'll feel like I'm starting a long affair since I moved up here, and overall it's pretty exciting.

As a character guy, I'm on that same side. It'll be interesting to hear your insights on environments. Definitely something I gotta work on, so add that to the list of another thing I can learn from you haha

Sherm said...

The sketches are so delightful...I'm eagerly looking forward to the new blog!

Amir Avni said...

I love this post

WIL BRANCA said...

Great post, Will!

I especially like the line, "...the worst thing about L.A. is that it grows on you."

You *almost* convinced me! :)

Stephen Worth said...

I'm a third generation Angeleno. My grandfather was born in Pasadena in the 1890s. Los Angeles is an amazing place, but its magic isn't visible on the surface. It hides just around the corner of cinder block walls and at the end of back alleys lined with garages. Once you know where to look, you can't help but see amazing stuff all around you.

I have a Sunday afternoon jaunt that I take my out of town visitors on. It's a trip to a place that very few people know about, and even fewer can get access to. It's the beating heart of Los Angeles and it represents absolutely everything that this town is all about. If you'd like me to take you there sometime, let me know.

your pal

Will Finn said...

Hey Steve,

You're on! I will drop by the archive this week!