Digital-Age Artist

Digital-Age Artist

Burke artist Mike Fisher has published and won awards for his cartoons and digitally animated short films.

Down in his lab, late at night, Mike Fisher toils over his creation, coaxing life into it bit by bit, until one day, BAM, it comes alive.

"You create your own world, and you’re the master of domain. You can do whatever you want," said Fisher, 43, an award-winning, Burke-based cartoonist and animator, who has six digitally animated short films to his credit, along with dozens of comic strips and cartoons.

Fisher will be at Burke Used Books in Burke for an in-store appearance on Saturday, Nov. 20, from 2-6 p.m. He will sign autographs, meet with fans, display some of his artwork and demonstrate his craft.

"I always look for new local talent, things I think my customers will be interested in," said Burke Used Books’ owner Trish Nyhus. "The cartoons, comics are very big among the children. To have Mike come in and meet with them is fun for them."

Fisher’s alter-ego is a mild-mannered artist for News in Motion, a company that provides animations, video reports and graphics to media around the world. His work has been seen on national television newscasts and Web sites. But when he arrives home at night, and puts his children to bed, it’s playtime for Fisher.

"If I’m in the middle of animating a film, I can stay up until 12:30 or 1 on a work night," he said. "On Friday and Saturday, anything goes."

Fisher worked on his college newspaper at the University of South Carolina and took a job as a graphic artist for a newspaper in Charlotte, N.C., shortly after college. He bought one of the Macintosh computers shortly after they went on the market, and began virtual "doodling," thanks to a program called HyperCard. In 1995, he bought the software Infini-D and went to work teaching himself 3-D digital animation, à la the films "Toy Story," "Monsters Inc." and "Shrek."

Fisher got his big break when his first short film, "They Ruled the World," won a Rosebud Award at the annual Rosebud Film and Video Festival in Washington, D.C. In addition to taking home one of the five top prizes, Fisher won $1,000.

"It was something that had never happened to me before," said Fisher. "They called my name, and I have never forgotten that feeling."

THE FILM that won was six minutes long and created entirely on the computer. It concerned a group of aliens who land on Earth, albeit in a bathroom. It was a light-hearted film, as most of his films usually are, which included aliens. That’s a common theme for Fisher, who said most of his films "usually have a spaceship, alien or robot in them." He grew up adoring the Marvel series of comic heroes, like Spider-Man and The Hulk. In addition to his films, Fisher has a successful career as a cartoonist, publishing in "Starlog," Modeler’s Resource" and "Animation" magazines with his character 3-D Pete. His films, "A City of Flimjees" and "Far Away Eyes," were also exhibited at this year’s San Diego Comic Convention.

"I like to think of myself as a cartoonist and an animator," said Fisher, who admitted, "The computer is wiping out a lot of other ways of creating things because it’s so versatile."

Fisher is currently at work on another project, a film called "Electronic Things of the Future." To create his films, he uses the computer to plot out stories and design characters. Then, he assigns key frames, for example, telling the computer that a character will move from Point A to Point B. Once that job is done, the computer goes to work "rendering" his animation. Of course, once the rendering is done, Fisher usually has to tweak each frame, and there are 24 frames for every second of film, or 10,000 frames for a 7-minute film.

"The hardest thing about it is coming up with a story that’s worth a darn. Forget about special water effects, or hair blowing in the wind, I spend more time on the story," he said. "I used to think, 'It will look cool, and that will be good enough.’ You’ve got to hone the story to perfection before you start anything."

FILMS USUALLY take Fisher a year to complete, and he always uses the voices of his three children and wife exclusively in his movie.

"They think it’s neat, they like to tell their friends about it," said his wife, Margi Fisher. "Everybody argues about who got the biggest part in each animation."

Fisher’s appearance at Burke Used Books on Saturday will also benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation, to help with research into Parkinson’s disease. According to Nyhus, $1 from each purchase Saturday will benefit the Foundation.

"We’re going to give him a nice spot in the front of the store, and he gets free rein," she said. "He’s not as well-known as he should be. A lot of times, cartoonists aren’t as well-known as their characters."

With the success of Disney/Pixar movies like "The Incredibles," which he admitted he loved, Fisher said he has joked with family and friends about packing up and moving to California if the company came calling.

For now, though, his goal is not to join them, but to beat them.

"I would like someone to look at one of my animations and think it’s one of theirs [Pixar], and not to be able to tell," said Fisher.