Saturday, February 24, 2007

The snow and I are friends again.

It just kept snowing! It snowed all day on Wednesday and most of Thursday, then it stopped for a while on Thursday night. Then Friday, some more big flakes started falling and it just got deeper and whiter until there was 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground.

Thursday evening after school, a bunch of Danes got together to build an igloo in the field in the middle of the school grounds, the "Kassernej". It was very hygge little scene. Dogs and kids pitched in, and the work went on into the dark. The next day the roof was put on (the tricky part of building an igloo) and there was a small "housewarming" party to celebrate with candles and hot cocoa and chocolates. I wish I had some pictures from the celebration, but instead here's little Birk pitching in...

The other snow construction around the school was a little less wholesome. The 1st year students decided the smaller courtyard between two of the school buildings needed a giant (as they called it) snow phallus. The next day I saw some of my students from my last trip here, the 3rd years. One of them told me they were going to build another one, "but ours will be bigger!". And so they did. For sensitive readers, I'll keep these images in link form, so click here at your own risk.

Here's a few more snow pix from the igloo and around Viborg.... enjoy!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Getting What You Wish For

I still love it when it snows here, but today was a nasty one.

Here's an interactive video giving you the sensation of what is was like walking to the school this morning...

Click Me!

Big in Viborg

A couple of weeks ago, the local news here in Viborg came to do a story about the Animation Workshop. They asked me to do an interview. I don't much like being on camera, but how do you pass up a chance to be on TV in another country?

The piece is longer than I expected, about 10 minutes, and very well produced. Reminds you how terrible U.S. local news usually is.

Click Here to Watch

In my defense I said much more insightful things in the part they didn't air. I also didn't grin stupidly quite so much or say "um" every other word.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Danish Chair Smashing

As promised...

After the graduation ceremonies I talked about in my last post, there were various celebrations. Some were for parents and other family members. Others were more for the teachers and staff. But of course, the students had their own plans.

The BIG plan was a "Heavy Metal" party, complete with a death metal band who drove in from another town. They were not very good, but they sure meant it!

Aside from the band, everyone dressed up in what they figured was very "METAL" including dyed hair, head bands, Guns-N-Roses t-shirts, sleeveless jean jackets and lots and lots of marker tattoos. I even heard a little Iron Maiden at one point. But for the most part, they're not naturally very "metal" folks.

So the band plays for a while, and at some point I look around and get a feeling like I know this scene.

It's DALLAS!!! This is like every crappy rock show I've ever gone to in Dallas. Or at least the crowd looks the same. Difference is that these folks are kidding, while the Dallas crowds really mean it. I don't know which is worse.

The band is done, we all drink more beer, and then I see Emil (one of my students pictured in an earlier post) and another student standing on stage yelling for everyone's attention. The chair smashing is about to begin. People are screaming... crazy for it!

"FOUR TEAMS!", the second guy yells, "EACH TEAM HAS TWO PEOPLE!"

There are a couple of minutes while the teams sort themselves out, and some chairs appear. It's all so orderly! The second guy on stage is holding two frying pans which will soon be employed in some chair destruction.


The crowd goes nuts again! I'm way into it too, by now.

They go on explaining the rules... that the winner will be decided by applause and that there will be three rounds... etc. I think there was some kind of prize, but nobody cared about that.

In comes the ROCK AND ROLL!!! The first round starts and I see Danes let loose like I didn't think was possible. It's like there's actually rage in Denmark... and these chairs are catching the bad end of it. Two chairs get smashed to bits. People get cut and bruised, chunks of wood go flying off into the crowd, contestants jump on each other and play like they're about to start fighting.

Winners are declared, the next round goes off, then the next. One of my students, Mette (with the dyed red hair) made it through the second round and into the finals. Makes me feel like I've got a horse to back in this race. She's a tough little thing too.

They start the last round, and I hear somebody lament that it's a shame they're going to smash one particular chair. I look to see, and sure enough, it's a nice old antique looking chair with a red velvet cushion. "That chair probably lasted 100 years", the person said, "and now it's just gonna get smashed up." I wonder if someone should find a more expendable chair, but it's too late. That chair took a beating I wouldn't wish on Katie Couric! Including this well placed head shot by Mette's teammate....

You see all those little particles in the air? That was the chair taking one last shot at the world. The crumbling remains of fibrous padding in that velvet seat exploded into the air and quickly filled everyone's lungs. A few people stumbled out coughing, but the smashing went on!

Mette and her teammate won solidly. Go Mette!

I'd love to tell you this is some old Viking tradition that's lasted down through the centuries, but the truth is that some of the 4th year students (the ones that just graduated) used to get drunk a lot, and one time they started smashing chairs at the end of the night. Like most things, it turned into a competition and is now a tradition.

Clearly this isn't what I'd come to expect from the Danes. The non-jaywalking, coziness loving austere Scandinavians I'd come to know disappeared. Mad people took their places. I don't know whether it's more of the generational difference I've imagined before, or if it's just that these students aren't average Danish folk.

But it was awesome!

Animation Workshop Graduation

The Animation Workshop here in Viborg, Denmark just celebrated their first graduating class of Bachelor Degree students. It's a big deal for the school, and it was exciting to be here for it.

Here they are being really really excited about it. That's Morten Thorning in the middle with the grey beard. He's the director of the school. I've mentioned him before.

I attended the commencement ceremonies which was mostly a screening of the students' bachelor projects. It was fairly informal but sadly some things are universal, so there were quite a few people who got up to give speeches. These were all in Danish, of course. If you think the last commencement speech you had to sit through was boring, imagine that you couldn't understand a single fucking word and still had to sit there still and quiet for an hour. Man!

Then Michelle Nardone got up and gave her speech including a shout out to my good friend David Tart! Michelle being American, it was in English, thank god! Then she presented the films.

There's a sampling of the films here. But I just want to mention two that I really liked...

The first is called "Dharma Dreameater" by Rasmus L. Møller and Edda Hron Kristunsdottir. It's about a witch who rides her magic vacuum around sensing when children are having bad dreams and flying to them to vacuum up the monsters. They used 3d animation to create this wonderful pop-up book style for the whole piece, then animated the characters in traditional 2d. Really imaginative, and really appealing.

The second one (and this was really the crowd favorite) is "Hum" by Søren Bendt Pedersen. Søren produced it almost completely by himself. The story is of a robot, lonely in (presumably) his creator's worshop. It's incredible in detail and quality and is about 8.5 minutes long. That's huge for an individual project, and the results are stunning.

Also worth mentioning were "Monsters from the Id", which you can watch here in it's entirety, "Fishing with Spinoza" (hilarious) and "Cafe' Rendezvous" (also available to view). Check 'em out!

Next post... the celebration. With chair smashing.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Århus... in the middle of our street

To get to London from Viborg, I had to pass through a town called Århus (pronounced Arhoos and alternatively spelled Aarhus). It's a town on the west coast of the Jutland region of Denmark, right on the water. It's got a fairly good sized University, and it was described to me this way, "It's the second largest city in Denmark... which means it's really small."

I decided to head down a couple of days ahead of schedule and check out the town. I was able to find lodging with a couple of people connected with the school. That's the biggest travel tip I can offer anyone... if you have an opportunity, stay with locals! True it saves you some hotel costs, but it also lets you get to know the place much much better, and avoid the touristy crap.

The first night I stayed with Emma and her boyfriend Flemming. Emma is Australian and teaches acting at the school in Viborg. Flemming is a freelance music producer and has set himself up a very nice little recording studio where they both live. The last shot here is the room I slept in.

We went out that night to a great little pub called Ris Ras. Probably my favorite place in Denmark to date for a beer, and it definitely has that "cozy" feeling the Danes like so much.

The next day was the coldest of my trip so far. Even the Danes shivered. Emma showed me around a bit and left me at a Cafe' where I ate a typically massive Danish brunch. I wandered the city center for a while, but it was just too damned cold to do much (pictured).

Still, I saw some of the city, and it's a beautiful place. Lots of walking streets with lots of shops and cafes and big beautiful churches. It also has a fairly big forested area right in the middle of town, but sadly, that was one of the places the weather kept me from.

That night I stayed with Anders, another associate of the school. He owns a small animation studio in Århus called Ja Film along with a friend named Rune. Rune (pic below) has some strange fascination with the recent film version of Miami Vice, so we spent the evening and Anders place screening it while drinking Mojitos. Can't complain... it kept us out of the cold for a while. We did head out late and check out some bad open mic music.
Ja Film is housed in an old building in the a central part of town known as the Latin Quarter. This building was once Chocolate Factory and still has the original sign out front. Their studio is in the top floor and is a beautiful space, perfect for the small group they have working there.

Anders' apartment was also in an attic-like space and also really great. He's built himself a little nest up above the entertainment center in his living room with a clever stair step shaped set of bookshelves leading up. The only thing I didn't like about either of these places was the 4 or 5 flights of stairs I had to tackle loaded down with my pack. If I had that many stairs to climb to get home, I'd be in a lot better shape.

I had a great time in Århus, despite the chill. I'd like to get back here in a warmer season. The waterfront was beautiful, but again, just too cold to enjoy this time of year.

By the way, every time I mentioned Århus to Simon and Leslie in London, they'd start right into "Our House" lyrics by Madness. So full credit to them for my clever title.

"Århus... in the middle of our street!"

Friday, February 2, 2007

My Little Animators

Just a few shots of my students here in Denmark. All taken by someone with better photographic abilities than myself...

Mette H. from Aarhus and Stephan from Germany... "The footsteps of the Alps" he tells me.

Rasmus is about to get some very wise advice, I'm sure.

Jeannette... with an idea I guess.

Christian and Sylvester.

Israel. All the way across the Atlantic and I get a student from Mexico City. Huh.

Svend mit iPod.

Mette T. with Israel

And... ah, yes. Emil.

We'll end this with one more of Mette H. with a promise to explain further soon.

Canal Camping in Camden

Thursday the 25th of January marked the first time I set foot in the city of London. I now love it very much.

I plan to tell a few stories from my time there, but for now I just want to make some introductions.

My hosts were Simon Tickner and his lovely lady Leslie. I met Simon in Miami last April where he was "worst man" in a mutual friend's wedding. I couldn't have had a better guide. The mutual friend was John Graham who happened to be in London the same time I was. More about that later.

Simon and Leslie live on a "narrow boat", a flat bottom canal boat moored in the central London neighborhood of Camden near Regents Park and the London Zoo. The boat was built in 1890 when it would've had no engine, instead being pulled by a horse on the bank, and the current main living quarters would've been and open cargo hold. It's since been enclosed and fitted with a steel body, given an engine, plumbing and electricity. There's a Chinese restaurant on the bank of the canal and a beautiful west facing view. More about the boat later.

I was offered the Boatsman's room in the back. The room measures about 10 feet by 4 feet and includes a bunk, and coal burning stove and not much else. And it was perfect. Every night, if I wanted a warm room when I put my head down, I had to go back and get the fire started in the stove an hour or two ahead of time to give it time to warm up in there. It was a little like camping in the middle of one of the most posh neighborhoods in London. I liked that a lot.

I spent most of my daytimes wandering parts of London in search of food and drink and art, and most of my nighttimes in the pubs of Brixton with Simon and his crowd. More on that later too.

For now I'll just say that I couldn't have had a better introduction to London, or better people to spend my it with. I'll be back.