February 21, 2008

Four Directions does animation

Legend come to lifeIn a rambling, two-story house in Vernon, a group of young animators is preserving and spreading ancient legends of the Oneida Indian people.

The Four Directions Productions animation studio has already produced its first feature, "Raccoon & Crawfish," which has won numerous awards at film festivals across the country and has even been screened in, of all places, a theater made of ice in Finland.

"I can remember my grandmother telling me this story," recalled Dale Rood, an Oneida who runs studio operations for Four Directions, owned by the Oneida Indian Nation. "My goal is to preserve the Oneida culture, the legends that have been played out from generation to generation. What better way to do that than to bring them to life through animation?"
Ray Halbritter's vision:The animation studio is just part of the Oneida nation's video and audio production arm. Four Directions has produced, among other things: animated kiosks on Oneida nation history for the Children's Museum of Utica; advertising for Turning Stone Resort and Casino, Ferris Industries and other clients; a documentary on Native American dances that appeared on NBC; and videos about Saratoga and Valley Forge historical parks.

Rood credits nation leader Ray Halbritter with supporting the production group's efforts.

"For an Oneida person," said Rood, a member of the tribe's Turtle Clan, "it's really gratifying that the nation and Ray had enough foresight and a vision to utilize resources in a way that preserves our culture."
How the process works:Four Directions has taken over the large house on Route 5. The kitchen has been left in place, and staff members often have lunch at the counter, and there's a foosball table in the next room. The staff has even been known to have a hot dog cookout for lunch in the middle of winter.

The animators are housed on the lower level, their offices crowded with huge computer screens and high-powered processors. Rood said Four Directions uses more computer processing power than the rest of the nation combined, including the Turning Stone resort complex.

On a digital tablet on the left side of his desk, Waller demonstrates how he created the image of Crawfish, whose googly eyes dangle above his head on antennae. As he draws a stylus across the screen, Crawfish's oversized head rotates and changes in color from pencil gray to a rusty tan.
The story comes first:Long before they put stylus to screen, the animators have to come up with the story. A legend is one thing; a cohesive, 8-minute film with dialogue is another.

"You take a Native American legend and you have to make it more exciting for animation," said Legwaila, a native of Botswana who started work at Four Directions when "Raccoon & Crawfish" was about half finished. "The computer stuff is easy. It's coming up with the good story that works and makes people laugh, with that message you're trying to put out that's the hard part."

The group is working on a second feature, and while no one will say officially what the subject is, an entire wall downstairs is filled with drawings that sketch out the tale of the turtle and the beaver.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Videos and Cartoons.

No comments: