Sunday, September 11, 2011

11th September 2011

Given today's date, it's pretty easy to recall my whereabouts exactly ten years ago. Though the weeks, months and years since seem mostly seem to blur as one, September 11th 2001 is clearly another kind of date altogether. For what it's worth, (be warned; there is no great insight to be found here) here's my recollection of the events of that day written from the remove of ten years and three and a half thousand miles away from Ground Zero.

I was working in a temporary animation studio set-up in a red brick house in suburban North London. Each day that summer, I would get the WAGN train to Alexandra Palace, climb through leafy Alexandra Park and emerge onto the residential streets of  Muswell Hill. A Los Angeles-based production company had hired a London-domiciled Dutch animation director to make television commercials for the phone company AT&T. So it was that a rented five bedroom Edwardian house on Dukes Avenue had become the unlikely hub of a trans-Atlantic production enterprise. I had established a network of three PCs running Animo software in one of the smaller back bedrooms of the house: from that modest room we would scan, paint and composite every element of five animated television commercials. The larger front bedroom was occupied by our director Michael Dudok de Wit, a couple of his assistants and a video editor (possibly called Matt). we had strung Ethernet cables along the hallways between the rooms and established about ourselves a pleasingly adhoc working space. Downstairs, the front lounge had become a production office whilst the large room to the rear had become the domain of Rufus Dayglo and other animators with their wedge-shaped wooden drawing desks.

Whilst I was trying to fit several layers of mis-aligned scanned drawings together, I had the Guardian website open in another window. The planes had hit already and there was a photo of the skyscrapers on fire. Michael appeared at the doorway to my room with "Have you seen what's happened in New York?". I recall thinking how unlikely such an accident could possibly be. I remembered an old statistical saw I had heard many years earlier about the safety of nuclear power stations. A disaster at a nuclear power station was supposedly as likely as two loaded jumbo jets colliding over Wembley Stadium on Cup Final day. Well, now it seemed that a similarly unlikely occurrence had in fact occurred. I was naively slow to realise that this unfolding disaster was not some chance happening but a deliberate act of terror.

As a well-appointed fully-furnished rented house there was a large-screen TV in one of the rooms. We all gathered around to watch just in time to see the towers collapsing. What did all of this mean?

I recall we had two American colleagues with us, we were working for an American studio, we were working on commercials for an American client. The possibility of a sixth commercial rapidly faded away, just as so much else else did that day.

It seems so very strange now, but I did drift back to that back bedroom and get some work done; we still had a series of delivery deadlines to hit. Perhaps a hollow response but it seemed to be the only thing we could do.

I've had a quick look about on the web and have found couple of the animated commercials we were making in that house in Muswell Hill back in September 2001.

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