Amazeballs!

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Amazeballs!

(Yep, I did it. The uncool Dad thing of saying the current slang that was added to the urban dictionary. Deal with it!)

When’s the last time you did something amazing, spectacular, jaw-dropped speechless for your kids?

I don’t mean “I am (insert butler/maid/launderer/chef) for my kids” kind of thing. We all do incredible amounts of work for our kids. I don’t mean the daily grind. I also don’t include soccer practice, baseball, sports competitions, swim meets, school plays . . . none of that. I’m talking about something totally unexpected, off-the-map, hard to do, hard to find, hard to accomplish kind of thing?

I actually managed that this week. I have my share of real life. Guitar lessons on Saturdays. School clubs, student council, field trips, all of that. My daughter had an adventure for Homecoming that had me playing chauffeur for two days.

This weekend I loaded the four smaller Manoucheris into the car and drove up to Portland, Oregon. It’s not because I like rain or the show Portlandia. (Okay, I like Portlandia, but I digress)

You need some back story here. Not Disney Phineas and Ferb backstory. There’s no “stand outside and be a lawn gnome” business going on here. (There’s actually a Wikipedia page of Heinz Doofenshmirtz’s backstories. Amazing! Google the lawn gnome, it’s worth the digression. We’ll wait here for you!)

………….

(Okay you’re back…)

My son has a soft spot for what is called stop-frame animation. He grew fascinated when I was watching a documentary one day on the director Ray Harryhausen. He is the man behind Clash of the Titans and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. My son sat, at age 10, and watched two full hours of the history of Ray Harryhausen. He has a scale model of the Jason skeleton as well as a t-shirt bearing homage to the late director.

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The technique is called stop-frame because you make a model, or puppet, or what have you and you move the model a fraction. You shoot a still frame of film. You move it a little more . . . and a little more. It takes 24 of those pictures to make one single second of a film.

My son decided to start doing this himself. Last Christmas I got him software that came with a web-camera that lets him shoot stop-frame cartoons. I do believe in all sincerity that making these little movies was a boon to my son’s mental health. He was having a really hard time dealing with the grief of losing his mom. The meticulous nature and attention to detail funneled his creativity and helped I am sure of it.

Some amazing movies are made with this system. One of the biggest studios now, a studio my son knows and loves, is called Laika. They have made the movies Coraline as well as The Boxtrolls, and ParaNorman. My kids love and have seen all these films.

Coraline, courtesy Laika Films.
Coraline, courtesy Laika Films.

I reached out to the folks at Laika and told them exactly what their films and what this kind of animation has meant to my son, and to all of us. I simply wanted to have my son meet an animator or talk to one or see the inside of their building, anything would be great. To my astonishment and utter delight they told me I could come up and see them and they’d give us a full tour.

Thus the trip to Portland, the city where Laika has their headquarters.

I kept why we were going a secret, other than telling them we were visiting their older sister. When we pulled up there was no indication where we even had arrived.

“Dad, this looks like an insurance company,” they told me, knowing full well it couldn’t be.

I cannot tell you what we saw. That’s part of the deal. No photos, no phones, non-dicslosure all around is the theme of the day. None of us cared a lick. We were happy to sign it.

My son asked a million questions, enthusiastically and almost giddy. The answers he got had the same level of enthusiasm and imagination. The fact that this little 12-year-old was on the same wavelength seems to have connected with the employees who took us around.

There is nothing to compare with that starry-eyed look of astonishment and excitement when your kids are truly youthful and imaginative and seeing something they’d never thought in their wildest dreams they’d experience.

So why do I tell you this? Am I looking for the “Coolest Dad Ever” award or something? No. This is my lesson to every parent because I learned it well: our kids work really hard not just for themselves but for us, too. When my son was grieving he tried to keep it from me or he tried to work it out even though he was terrified to face it and didn’t want to deal with it. It caused him terrible problems which hurt him and made me hurt as well. I couldn’t fix this problem. Some are just too big for a dad to tackle.  Yet he found this amazing thing that let him work out his frustration and grief and he worked it out as much for all of us as for himself.

So when the thought hit me that if I took the family up to visit their sister, we could stop in Portland maybe they’d let us say “hello.” Instead, this wonderful group of people at a major studio told me to come in and we’d get a tour. We’d not only get to see someone who works for this company . . . we’d see them in action.  I got an event that all four kids will remember for a lifetime. We saw magic – not film magic, though that is there. We saw imagination turned technical turned artistic turned . . . beautiful.

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“This would be the coolest place to work . . . ever,” my son whispered to me during the tour. I can’t disagree.

The folks at Laika told us “we need box office results in order to get the money to keep making these so we’ll need you to go see this film. Maybe see it twice!” It was a joke . . . but little do they know we were at Boxtrolls on opening day and we’ll be seeing Kubo and the Two Strings, their new film (I am allowed to tell you the title) next year, too.

Poster for Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika films, coming out next year
Poster for Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika films, coming out next year

Amazement. Sure my kids showed their amazement, slack-jawed, eyes glistening and floored at the imagination.

I’m not amazed at that. I’m amazed that a group of people who had no need to show us around simply said “come on in!”  I’m amazed at how lively and excited they were with us and the others getting a tour that day.

I’m amazed at the love and humanity of other human beings. That is truly wonderful.

(Yes…I resisted the urge to say “that was truly amazeballs!)

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