Saturday, April 26, 2014

What I've Been Listening To Lately: Prog, Djent, Jazz Fusion, Instrumental, Experimental, Weird, and More!

Because I couldn't possibly write even the smallest paragraphs for the shear amount of bands that are on this list, the majority of these entries will simply be a link to a YouTube video or otherwise. Hopefully, people will be able to come to their conclusions this way and perhaps explore the wild world of progressive metal using one or more of these songs as a springboard. I won't bother, however, linking to bands that I've arleady discussed in exhaustive detail in the past, such as Meshuggah or Tesseract. You should be listening to them by now anyway. And I apologize in advance for not including old-school dad-rock prog like Pink Floyd, tech-death, math metal or mathcore, avant-garde black metal, progressive sludge, sumeriancore, or metalcore/deathcore. Most of the bands that belong to those labels either bore me or I've already played the hell out of them. Without further ado, let's get started!

PROG

Devin Townsend


Bonus: Check out his cover of the notorious Badger song!

Opeth


Liquid Tension Experiment


The instrumental side project of Dream Theater's drummer, Mike Portnoy, which includes John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, and Tony Levin from King Crimson.

Scar Symmetry


Seventh Wonder


Anciients


Okay, I lied. Technically this is one of those prog-sludge bands, but they're probably the only one I willingly listen to anymore, and they get props for being from British Columbia as opposed to Georgia like all the rest of them. I also talked about them in great length in a previous post.

Myrath


Tunisian oriental power-prog! Probably one of the coolest of my recent finds. I can't stop jamming these guys.

Scale The Summit


Saw these guys live the first time I saw Tesseract with Anciients. They were okay! Much better on record than on stage, though. Not all prog was meant for live performance in front of a djent-hungry crowd ready to mosh.

Spastic Ink / Ron Jarzombek


Spastic Ink may now be tragically defunct, but Ron Jarzombek is one of those guys who has a million other bands and side-projects to work with. Check out his latest soon-to-be-a-masterpiece, Terrestrial Exiled!

Twelve Foot Ninja


Are they prog? I don't give a damn. Currently one of my most-listened-to bands of all time, and also winners of the Best New Talent prize at the Golden Gods Awards. YOU'RE MOSHING!!!

DJENT

Animals As Leaders



Intervals


Skyharbor


Former-Tesseract frontman's new band! Not quite as vicious as Tompkins-era Tesseract, but they easily contend with Ashe O'Hara's melodic/jazz-fusion model of the band.

Cloudkicker


Amazingly impressive for a one-man band. Some of the best the sub-genre has to offer. Also seen in-person the *second* time I saw Tesseract live, albeit from all the way at the merch booth. I should have bought a t-shirt!

Chimp Spanner


Uneven Structure


Widek


Gru


PROG-THRASH

Mastery


Here's some progressive thrash! À la Fates Warning, Watchtower, Dark Angel, Racer X, Nevermore, and Voivod.

Destrage



I actually have no idea what genre this band belongs to. If "Fun" and "Happiness" were categories of heavy metal, I assume that they would be a fusion of the two.

TECH-DEATH

Blotted Science


I lied again. Here's some technical death metal, in the form of yet another Ron Jarzombek project. This is about the extent of both my knowledge and appreciation of the sub-genre, however. Death metal and prog-wankery go about as well together as ketchup and ice cream for me. One or the other, please.

JAZZ-FUSION

Exivious


Panzerballett


SAXOPHONES!!! Find more on Tesseract's "Altered State!"

AVANT-GARDE / EXPERIMENTAL

(Hint: This is where it gets weird.)

Dog Fashion Disco


Been listening to these guys a LOT. Possibly the best Mr. Bungle / Faith No More ripoff band out there. They only recently reunited after a long series of breakups since 2007, but the band-members, most notably the singer Todd Smith, have since branched out into equally terrific side-projects, which are listed below.

Polkadot Cadaver


Knives Out!


More of a mainstream groove/alternative band than the others, but far more aggressive than most you would hear on the radio. Bonus points for including members of Nothingface!

El-Creepo!


The Alter Boys


Bonus: Includes J-Mann from Mushroomhead!

Carnival In Coal


French disco black metal. No, I'm not joking.

Pin-Up Went Down


When Carnival In Coal (inevitably) broke up, the Damien brothers regrouped and formed Pin-Up Went Down, which steers a *little* away from the absurdity of their previous efforts, and includes female vocals.

Peeping Tom


If you're not listening to Mike Patton, you're not listening to music. Which, of course, brings us back to...

Mr. Bungle


I couldn't write a post that includes avant-garde metal without 'em.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far! If you have any questions, comments, recommendations, or complaints, let me know!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reflecting On 2013, Ruminating on 2014

Posts like these are hard for me to formulate. I don't mind baring my soul to an audience, and it's not like I'm ever not introspective. I've just never had the knack for finding the right words to match just how I feel when I think about an entire year's worth of events, especially that of 2013. The best way that I can think of as a launchpad for a blog like this is to remind myself of where I was at this exact same time last year, and it wasn't exactly a pretty picture. 2013 for me was not that different to 2012 in my experience, in that both were emotional roller-coasters with extreme highs and lows. However, I genuinely feel that while 2012 ended on a bleak and uncertain note for me, the end of this last year could not have been more satisfying.

When I graduated from college at the end of Spring in 2012, I knew as I sit in my folding chair among the endless throngs of my classmates all packed into that auditorium that my childhood was over. Not at the hands of some crippling or mentally-scarring trauma, but that from that moment forward, I could no longer be the child I was so accustomed to. While I still feel that my three years at SCAD were among the best that I've yet had in life, and that I was more productive than I had ever been up until that point, I still had very little sense of accountability or responsibility. Any free time that I had outside of classes were usually spent hiding in my dorm, killing countless hours on video games. Graduation, and my subsequent life back at home, was a much-needed wake-up call. I have since abstained from most video-game playtime, and I don't regret it in the slightest. But at the time I faced a void I hadn't been confronted with since my high school graduation a mere half-decade earlier: "What am I going to do now?" My quarter-life crisis had yet again reared its ugly head, but this time it seemed that no amount of bootstrap-pulling would alleviate the monumental sense of dread and anxiety. At eighteen years old, all I was expected to was work my retail job without complaint, take some courses on the side and apply to a "real" university. Now, I had to take everything I had learned and use it to start my professional career. Easier said than done, of course.

Anyway, by New Years Day of 2013, I had essentially given up the notion that I would even land a real job in my industry. I was tired of my futile efforts, and depleted from all the rejection letters from what few studios bothered to respond to my inquiries and the complete lack of recognition from everyone else. Worse yet, I couldn't even find other jobs in retail, and the one I had was calling me in for fewer and fewer hours. On one hand, it was frustrating, especially considering that I had no plan for the upcoming year, but on the other hand it was liberating. Like lifting a great weight off my shoulders, I could instead focus on my personal work and collaborations with other young and hopeful artists, instead of spending my daytime hours in the misery of sending out even more applications. Of course, I did have two potential job leads, which I would then prioritize over the myriad of other studios across the country. One of them happened to be Floyd County Productions.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, as is usually the case, I couldn't be hired by Floyd at the time. And I cried like a baby. It was the closest lead I had in over half a year of searching, and it was gone. Back to square one, which was exactly where I was afraid to be. I told my other lead about the situation, and they asked me to come in for an interview. This was a place that promised me work for the past few months, and I didn't expect much to come out of it, thanks to all the success that I was having before this meeting. Right there, on the spot, I was offered a temporary freelance position. My first job in the industry. I didn't cry this time, but I will say my spirits were higher than they had been in many months. Coincidentally, this was around the time that the long-term independent animation project that I had been involved with, "Double Rainboom," had finally wrapped up its production and was released to the Internet. It would mark a farewell to an experience I had given a full year of my life to, and to the doldrums I had found myself in at the time. Rainboom gave me something to with my time other than panic about my failing job search, and it allowed me to learn techniques and skills that were barely touched upon at school and to be even more productive than I had been on my own coursework. Now I could use that skillset and animate advertisements that would be aired on television, something that I thought I would never have the opportunity to do.

My patience and diligence was finally rewarded by the end of that spring when my connections at FCP finally got back to me, and asked me if I was still interested in working on a new project for them. I couldn't think of a simpler way to express "hell yes," and took the occasion of visiting them at their office in Atlanta. I felt like Charlie in Wonka's chocolate factory, being able to explore the insides of one my favorite "small" animation studios in the United States. I made sure to remind my interviewers of how urgently available I was to work at their company. And yet, when I returned home that weekend, I felt utterly defeated yet again. Surely, my endeavors weren't going to yield anything promising, no one was impressed by my flattery, and I was going to be stuck with my foot in the door for another year. Of course, I took that attitude with me to work that following Monday, even as I happened to open my inbox that morning, and there it was. My acceptance email from Floyd. I had "made it."

I didn't cry this time, either. In fact, I thought for the longest time that a devious prank was being played on me. I did get a little misty-eyed breaking the news to my family, friends, and co-workers though, all of whom had been my greatest cheerleaders. The hardest part was knowing that I would be leaving them all to move to Atlanta in a few short weeks, without their comfort to get me through any more tough times. My childhood had ended months ago, but now I felt that my adulthood could truly begin, and all the trials and tribulations that come with it.

From that scorching summer to this blistering winter, I have been happily working at Floyd County Productions, rewarded in more ways than one for the work that I love and surrounded by some of the most humbly-talented and friendliest teammates a rookie like me could ask for. And hey, living independently of my parents and paying for my own wants and needs is a nice little bonus as well. And that once looming giant that is my student loan debt shrinks a little smaller every month, no longer the specter that haunted my waking dreams. And now the new show that we've all toiled over for half a year will be ready to release this month. How many people, even within the field of animation, can say they scored two jobs, directed their own handful of commercials, contributed to a YouTube video with millions of views and helped make a cartoon series for mainstream television? There would be no convincing the person I was a full year ago, I'll tell you that.

However, with every success there's disappointment, and this year also marked the end of another major part of my life. What started out as sweet quickly turned toxic, and for the sake of my emotional and mental well-being, and I had to leave what was becoming a steadily-worsening situation for me. I won't go into details, other than to say I don't regret the decision I made, and have been much healthier for it ever since, but any one who wants to ask me about it may do so privately.

At the end of 2012, I looked forward to the new year with very little hope. Hope was a luxury that I refused to waste time and energy on. All I knew was, that if I was going to get anywhere beyond my situation in life, I had to ignore distractions like hope and keep moving forward. Now, at the end of 2013, I couldn't have more hope even if I asked for it. And I still neither need nor want it. The last year was proof that I could achieve what was I aiming for if I grit my teeth and worked for it. I have amassed a swath of new experiences, from software to socializing, and I feel far-better equipped to deal with the challenges of the present than any time before. Instead of fearing the obstacles, I welcome them, in anticipation of learning something new and seeing what I can accomplish with a little extra effort.

In conclusion, if I have any new years resolutions, it would be thus:

(1) If something goes wrong in my life, I won't needlessly despair. I'll pick myself up, dust myself off, and do what I do best. And if that doesn't work, I'll become better at what I need to do. If I learned anything from that past year, it's that effort is everything, and that you won't achieve anything if you don't try in the first place. There will be unexpected setbacks, embarrassing failures, and times where I'll be confronted by my own limitations, but I'll be damned if I don't make it to 2015 without being able to say that I worked hard anyway.

(2) When things go right for me, I won't let the success get to my head. In this field in particular, I've seen it happen far too often. People who gain a whole new sense of self-entitlement from whatever miniscule victory they've performed, and they expect to be heaped with unconditional praise from their new-found fans, and respect from everyone else. People like these rarely function well in the real world, especially when they have to provide for themselves, or god-forbid make small sacrifices to attain something they want. I hope I never become as egotistical as some of those that I've personally witnessed, and I like to think that it was multitude of positive and negative experiences in my life that will keep me down to earth.

(3) STOP. WORRYING.

(4) Now that bygones are bygones, get back to personal work again. It's about high time that I stop being afraid of changing my comfortable little routine and try to stay busy in my free time. Fearing failure is no longer a good excuse, and besides, it used to make me so happy anyway.

Thanks again to all the wonderful people in my life who stuck by my side through all the bad times and good, and if not, then take care and farewell. I just hope you too will be able to look back on a year of your life and be proud for yourself, and that you didn't feel the need to make others proud for you. And as always, stick to your true friends and family; they know best.

Also, I now have exactly 11,100 songs on my iPod. So there's that. Seeya!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Albums I Happened To Listen To In 2013: The Review

Newsted - Heavy Metal Music (January 8)


A full dozen years after leaving his former band Metallica, in not entirely amicable terms, bassist Jason Newsted finally released his own solo album. And it's not bad! Just not that memorable. Didn't help that the initial four-song EP lasted 22 minutes, with each track averaging 5 1/2 minutes long. Metallica itself had been known time and time again to take good material and spread it out to the point that the listener stops paying attention. He could have easily shaved off 2 to 3 minutes of filler off each one and not have to endlessly repeat verses and choruses. The full length album came out later in August, but I haven't listened to it yet. I'll get around to it eventually.

Hatebreed - The Divinity Of Purpose (January 28)


An album I acquired purely out of completionism, I have yet to listen to this in full. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it's just another Hatebreed album. Either they haven't released an interesting record in about a decade, or I've just grown out of motivational hardcore. Still love 'em though.

Meshuggah - Pitch Black (February 5)


This EP was released for free via their label's website, and included just one previously unreleased track and a live version of "Dancers To A Discordant System." But, I was still reeling from the phenomenal "Koloss," which had been unleashed just the year before. And besides, it was free! Decent metal at a low price is always a good bargain.

Clutch - Earth Rocker (March 15)


Kvelertak - Meir (March 25)


Anciients - Heart Of Oak (April 12)


I discovered this band when they opened for Tesseract and Scale The Summit on their USA tour. And personally, they would have been my favorite performance that night if it weren't for Tesseract themselves, who executed their technically-demanding music flawlessly and made sure to interact with the crowd and get more than a few laughs out of everyone. But Anciients sure as hell blew Scale The Summit out of the water, who were staring at their fret-boards the entire time. They made sure to engage the audience as well, and their brand of progressive sludge as pioneered by the likes of Mastodon and Baroness is the kind of metal that all kinds of music fans can enjoy, or at the very least tolerate. Coincidentally, I first discovered Baroness in a similar situation when they opened for Deftones, and now they're one of my all-time favorite bands. It's too soon to say the same for Anciients just yet, but I'm certain that in the near future they'll take "Heart Of Oak" to its logical next step and win me over.

Mindless Self Indulgence - How I Learned To Stop Giving A Shit And Love Mindless Self Indulgence (May 14)


A looong overdue album, which I wanted to slam as harshly as I did the unequivocally disappointing "If" album, but I couldn't. It's pretty decent. Don't get me wrong, it ain't "Frankentstein Girls," but it certainly reminded me of why I love the band in the first place. With that said, the album's title is humorously fitting. It was also one of many albums funded entirely through Kickstarter, which more and more bands are trying (and failing) to take advantage of. They may not be affluent enough to support their music through traditional means, but at least they still have their insane fan-base after all these years of insane music.

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (May 17)


The long awaited new album by the venerable Daft Punk, which the public largely accepted whole-heartedly. I, however, was one of the few holdouts. I couldn't help but hold it up in comparison to the iconic "Discovery," or even "Human After All," which everyone loves to bash but which happens to be my personal favorite of the duo's. It was much too 'pop' for my tastes, even though they're one of the poppiest bands in the world. Far too much emphasis on the 70's era of dance in my opinion, and not enough of the futuristic electronica that brought to mind space exploration and robotics, such as on their soundtrack of "Tron: Legacy." Oh well. I can always put my hope in The Prodigy, who've promised a new album for the last few years now.

Tesseract - Altered State (May 27)


Progressive rock and metal have gone through many different changes in style and approach since its inception in the late 1960s. The classic era of prog could be easily defined by the big bands of the genre, such as Rush, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. In a time muddled with blues, psychedelic, punk, disco, and early heavy metal, the prog bands dared to play sophisticated and challenging music, and to sing melodically over this carefully composed sonic arsenal of poly-rhythms. The original style ultimately fell to the wayside as simpler yet more aggressive music took the stage in the 80's, but prog found new life in metal itself by the 1990s, with the rise of such bands as Tool, Dream Theater, Opeth, Strapping Young Lad, and Meshuggah. The popularity of the latter band itself inadvertently led to the spawning of the often-maligned micro-genre of 'djent,' of which Tesseract is a pioneer. Many of the members of this wave of metal either incorporate the style into the already successful genre of deathcore, and play easily-accessible watered-down prog metal for angsty teenagers, and others simply play without vocals at all, and produce instrumental concept albums in the same vein as Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Tesseract is one of a handful that dares to play heavy progressive metal with clean, operatic singing that soars over the quick and harsh guitar-chugging. "Altered State" improves upon the formula established by their previous release and ventures further than they dared to before, even going as far as to introduce saxophone solos on more than one track. And if you catch them playing live, apart from the music itself you wouldn't be able to guess that they were a stereotypical experimental band, comprised of pretentious hipsters hijacking extreme music for a quick buck and some street cred. They look like a young 80s thrash band thrown into the present through a portal in the space-time continuum, and they have the attitude and sense of humor to match. Doesn't hurt that their new album happens to share its name with a song from one of the greatest thrash records of all time. If you aren't listening to Tesseract now, you should.

Alice In Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (May 28)


(At this point, I'm winded from writing the last paragraph). My verdict? Surprisingly good! And thankfully superior to their previous release. And they have one of the best live performances ever, even without the late, great Layne Staley.

Queens Of The Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork (June 3)


My verdict? Unsurprisingly disappointing. Josh Homme has been in a downward spiral since "Songs For The Deaf," and at this point, I think I should give up any hope that they'll return to their glory days and stick to their classics. Doesn't help that this album came after a long hiatus, just like Daft Punk. It was inevitable that I would have low expectations, which were more or less met.

Maximum The Hormone - Yoshu Fukushu (July 31)


This album was also long delayed and long awaited, but my patience was rewarded handsomely by this latest release from the Japanese alt-metal quartet. Ever since the jaw-dropping "Bu-ikikaesu," they put the majority of their recording and touring activities on hold while they took the time to start families and raise children. This of course never stopped them from assembling this laboratory monster in pieces, which were released periodically over the course of roughly six years. Most of the tracks come from earlier EPs, with only a handful of brand new unreleased songs, but that doesn't make the album as a whole any less golden. The music is solid, and I still have no idea what they are singing about. Here's to a whole 'nother decade of the weirdest band in all of Japan, which is saying a lot.

Mike Doughty - "Circles" (September 17)


Most people probably have no idea who this guy is, or who his former band was. Long story short, Mike used to be the frontman for the marginally-successful alternative rock band, Soul Coughing. Most people who know them nowadays may recognize them from the Cartoon Network commercials that used their music. The band eventually split, and Mike went on to record a truckload of solo albums. The latest of which is a collection of re-recorded Soul Coughing songs, which was financed through yet another online fundraiser. For the most part, the tracks remind me to just go back and listen to the originals, but there are nuggets of gold in here.

Metallica - Through The Never (September 24)


This year, Metallica made a concert film that came out in very few theaters for a very short time, and surprise, very few people saw it, including hardcore fans such as myself. The film was accompanied by an official soundtrack, which is essentially yet another live Metallica album. Moving on...

Dethklok - The Doomstar Requiem (October 27)


"Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem A Klok Opera" is my nomination for the best animated anything in the last 10 years, and its official soundtrack (which is the entirety of the audio of the TV special), is my nomination for metal album of the year. And it's not even a real band! Brendon Small, you're going places, if you're not in those places already. Thankfully, this 'conclusion,' is hardly the last we'll see of Dethklok, as I hope that many more episodes, soundtracks, and hour-long death-metal operas are coming in the near future.

Jeff Williams - RWBY Volume 1 (November 12)


"RWBY" is the original animated series by Rooster Teeth contributor Monty Oum, who animated those badass fight sequences from the later seasons of Red vs. Blue. However, unless you've never watched an anime in your life, neither the story nor the animation will hold up even in comparison to a simple machinima like RvB. It's hardly the show that was promised by those early trailers, which demonstrate more effort than what was presented in the entire season. Personal reservations aside, the official soundtrack is nothing to scoff at, and easily the highlight of the series. You won't get these melodies out of your head until you've listened to the record a few dozen times, and then some. Kudos to Jeff Williams, composer for a few of the official Red vs Blue soundtracks as well, for concocting such an infectious mix of anime-inspired ear-candy.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Heavy Metal Halloween

"Black Sabbath" - Black Sabbath (1970)


"Children Of the Grave" - Black Sabbath (1971)


"The Ripper" - Judas Priest (1976)


"Mr. Crowley" - Ozzy Osbourne (1980)


"Am I Evil?" - Diamond Head (1980)


"Angel Witch" - Angel Witch (1980)


"Welcome To Hell" - Venom (1981)


"The Number Of The Beast" - Iron Maiden (1982)


"The Curse of the Pharaohs" - Mercyful Fate


"Bark At The Moon" - Ozzy Osbourne (1983)


"Call Of Ktulu" - Metallica (1984)


"Burn In Hell" - Twisted Sister (1984)


"Mommy Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight" - The Misfits (1984)


"Evil Eyes" - Dio (1984)


"Hell Awaits" - Slayer (1985)


"Alone In The Dark" - Testament (1987)


"Surprise! You're Dead!" - Faith No More (1989)


"Of Wolf And Man" - Metallica (1991)


"Feed My Frankenstein" - Alice Cooper (1992)


"Fear Of The Dark" - Iron Maiden (1992)


"Beyond The Cemetery" - Cannibal Corpse (1992)
 

"Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)" - Type O Negative (1993)


"Possessed By Satan" - Gorgoroth (1996)


"I'm Your Boogieman" - White Zombie (1997)


"Gonna Kill U" - GWAR (1997)


"Vampires" - Godsmack (2000)


"Dracula" - Iced Earth (2001)


"House Of 1000 Corpses" - Rob Zombie (2001)


"She Was A Teenage Zombie" - Murderdolls (2002)


"The Devil Incarnate" - Death Angel (2004)


"Walk With Me In Hell" - Lamb Of God (2006)


"Awaken" - Dethklok (2007)


"This Is Halloween" - Marilyn Manson (2006)


"Kidnap The Sandy Claws" - Korn (2008)


"This Is Halloween" - Powerglove (2010)
 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Birthday...to Double Rainboom



Today is March 31st, 2013. My birthday. 24 years ago, I was born in a German hospital nearby an American military base and subsequently christened with a quasi-German name.

Last night, Double Rainboom was released onto the Internet. Double Rainboom is one of the first fan-made episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and it was made entirely by students at the Savannah College of Art & Design and numerous other schools, as well as plenty of supportive bronies around the globe. It was produced at a bullet-train’s pace for over a year by more than a hundred vector artists, character designers, storyboard artists, professional sound designers and composers, voice actors and actresses, and Flash animators like myself. I watched the film as it was being edited, composited, and rendered mere hours before it was broadcast live on a fan-site for over 5,000 people to watch. And for the rest of the year and beyond, our entire crew will experience the aftermath of having worked on this immense project and the consequences, good and bad, of sharing it with the world.

I guess my story starts when I first sat down and watched the show that we paid tribute to, which is coincidentally when I really got to know our director, Zachary Rich. It was the summer of 2011, and I volunteered to spend what would have been a three-month vacation back at SCAD for another quarter, so that I could graduate the next spring. I had planned to start pre-production on my senior film, for which I had already formulated a plot in my mind since my first year of college. Attendance that summer was scarce, except for a few friends and acquaintances that I was already familiar with, but that meant I could work at the animation building virtually undisturbed during the week, something that almost never happens during the regular year. One of these friends was Zachary Rich, a very eccentric fellow, but one of the nicest guys I had ever met. He was also toiling away on his own project, but it wasn’t his senior film. It was “Present Prank,” a short fan-animation of My Little Pony that he built his own character puppet for in Adobe Flash, with little prior knowledge of how to do so. I would be drawing and photographing my pencil-on-paper animations for our shared Character Animation course, and I would walk over, look over his shoulder, and watch him agonize over this funny little video. Not just because he was good at what he does, but because of my personal feelings about the source material.

I’m going to be blunt: I HATED the reboot of My Little Pony. Normally, I would have cared as much about it as I did the original series, but its rise in popularity spawned a peculiar phenomenon: Bronies. Trekkie-like fanatics who sang the praises of Lauren Faust’s re-imagining of the series, but were on the complete opposite end of the spectrum that was the target audience, considering that most of them were adult males. Nothing infuriated me to no end between the years 2010 and 2011, than to watch people in my age group rave about what I thought was mindless drivel, and to act so shamelessly immature on the forums that I frequented by spamming screenshots of the show. By the time it reached my classmates that Spring, I sat and fumed, but kept my feelings to myself, knowing I would lose my new-found friends in the process. But watching Zach spend countless hours perfecting that goofy little animation, my curiosity was piqued. Could it really be that good, if one man does all this work for it?

Halfway through the summer, I finally said “Oh, what the hell” and streamed the first two episodes on YouTube. Aside from cringing at the songs, I thought they were okay. I still didn’t understand why there was an entire legion of fans for it, organizing their own conventions dedicated to it. But it grew in the back of my mind like a communicable disease, and by the next week I had finished the entire season, discussed it openly with my classmates, and eagerly awaited the next season. If there was one noteworthy effect that it had on me, I had become far less angry than I normally would be. I was tired of being an animator who hated cartoons without watching them, and I was tired of being a cynical pessimist who only related to anonymous strangers online. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be happy, and share that happiness with others. For the next few months, My Little Pony brightened up my life.

In the spring of 2011, my senior film was nearly complete, and graduation was upon me. I reveled in my achievement, believing with a close-minded view that I had succeeded in mastering Flash and directing a short film. It was also around this time that I first noticed the official promotional posters for Double Rainboom that were being hung on the walls at Montgomery Hall. I was in a good mood, a friend of Zach’s and a new fan of the show, so again I said “Oh, what the hell,” and sat in on the first recruitment meeting for his film. I was a cautiously optimistic at the premise, but I sat there with about a dozen of my future team-mates and watched the pre-composed animatic and storyboards on a projection screen. I was absolutely blown away at the scope of his plan, and the contents of which can be found in the link above, to avoid spoilers. I immediately signed his Non-Disclosure Agreement, and committed myself to a production that I thought would only last a few months.

And then I attended Zach’s weekly Flash animation tutorials, which were hosted every Saturday evening. He taught me and handful of others artists not only how to make vector art in Flash, but how to make fully-rigged characters for animation in the process. I was dumbfounded. I realized quickly how I fell short of being a “successful” animator. How many corners I cut in order to finish my own film, at the sacrifice of quality and learning basic Flash skills. How easily another film I had worked on could have been done, if we had employed Zach’s time-saving techniques. I became very self-conscious by the end of that quarter, and it didn’t help that graduation, the end of this enlightening college experience, was looming. I acknowledged my senior film to be a failure, but a necessary one. I now knew the choices that I would never repeat in a professional production, and I knew that if I were to ever improve in my field, I would have to stay on the Double Rainboom team. Not only to contribute to what would hopefully be a successful film that opened up new doors for all of us, but to put myself through would essentially be animation boot camp.

That summer was an awful experience for me. Graduating SCAD left me feeling post-partum depression, and I filled my time with video games and Double Rainboom. I was able to help build the puppets for most of the main characters of the film, but I did little else but game otherwise. By that August I hit rock bottom. My pathetically-attempted job search unsurprisingly bared no fruit, and I reached a peak in my self-awareness. I had experienced these emotions before, after I had graduated high school and had no idea what to do with my life. I was too used to the structure of education to make decisions for myself, or to concern myself with the future. But now the future was staring down at me like the barrel of a gun, and I had no other choice but to make a choice. I uninstalled all of my games, cleared my life of all other distractions, and re-dedicated myself to Double Rainboom as a healthy way to be productive.

Fast-forward to January of 2013, and I still had no promising job prospects for the New Year, and the release of Double Rainboom had yet again been delayed. Our fan-base was losing confidence in our abilities, our crew was growing tired of the non-stop production, and the stress took its toll on Zach and some of the rest of us. However, a local marketing company that I had been in contact with for months finally offered me regular freelance work with them. After months of prospecting with no results, I had struck gold. A chance to work in my field, to be paid for it, to spend most of my time at a 9-to-5 job, and to finally leave the wacky world of retail behind. Barely working part-time at the mall doesn’t help one’s self esteem, but Double Rainboom at least kept me grounded. It was at this point that I officially ended my direct involvement with the project, even though I had been promoted to a lead animation position a few months prior. In February I started my new job, and loved every second of it. And Double Rainboom was finally seeing a major turnaround in its production, and Zach was able to nail down an exact release date. Things were looking up for us, and I once again felt that renewed sense of optimism that the show gave me over a year ago.

Now here we are. Like both of my graduations before this, this milestone is a sad one for me. I grew to love each and every one of the crew members I worked with on this film, and would hate to fall out of contact with them or to never work with them again. Our nonsensical Skype chats were what kept me going through my emotional lows, and their own work inspired me to push myself farther than I was willing to go on my own college film. But beyond reminiscing about the past, I am left looking at my future once more. But this time, it is not with existential terror or dread, but with hope. I now know what it takes to make it in my industry, and how hard I have to work to achieve the success that had previously evaded my efforts. I no longer fear rejection letters from studios or struggling to learn new software or animation techniques; I see them as opportunities to learn from mistakes, strengthen my skills, expand my knowledge, and take on new challenges confidently. I have a project under my belt that far surpasses my own senior film in every way, and I look forward to all the benefits it will undoubtedly bring me because I didn’t give up. I gained more friends in a single year than I ever did my entire life, and that network will continue to lift me above their shoulders in the future as they did during my personal struggles. And I finally regained the infectious positivity that I now share with our beloved director, Zachary Rich. Aw thanks to this light-hearted, but ambitious little movie.

But to think about the future again, I am still at a crossroads. New job opportunities may come up that I will enthusiastically take on, or they might not come at all. How I fare at the upcoming SCAD Career Fair will largely influence the outcome of that. But I was also in a private discussion with Zach, and once again he told me about his crazy future plans. If I hit rock bottom again, which is a possibility I don’t rule out but I am also no longer anxious about, I will absolutely join him in his new venture. The best possible situation for me would be to get picked up by an authentic animation studio, hopefully in partial thanks to my contributions to Double Rainboom, or to be permanently employed by my current office. Either way, my future no longer looks as bleak as I thought it did back when I was a melodramatic teenager. Double Rainboom was a grand quest, and now the adventure that is my life will continue as I take on its obstacles with renewed vigor and truly appreciate all of its little moments, whether they be silly cartoon shows or year-long film productions.

Thank you, Double Rainboom Crew, for helping me become the professional animator that I wanted to be, and more importantly, for being my friends. I couldn’t ask for a greater birthday present. It’s the gift that will keep on giving for the rest of my days. Here’s the video I posted earlier this last week as a token of my appreciation. I look forward to working with all of again in the near future. Feel free to contact me for anything at all, and you all know how to reach me. Shine on, you crazy bronies.