What was Disney thinking when they introduced their “Graphic Edge Collection” last fall?
What was Disney thinking when they introduced their “Graphic Edge Collection” last fall?
The Animation Workshop, a school in Viborg, Denmark, has posted this year’s crop of student films onto their Vimeo page. The school has embraced the model of successful French animation schools, like Gobelins and Supinfocom, that encourages students to work in teams. Like those schools, the Workshop’s films exhibit the same strengths (incredible production values and technical craftsmanship) and weaknesses (stories lacking point of view and personal voice).
I haven’t watched all of The Animation Workshop’s graduation films yet (the program is 3-1/2 years hence the mid-year debut of these films), but among the ones I have seen, The Backwater Gospel is a visual standout. The film offers a fresh look that I haven’t seen before, although Luis Cook’s The Pearce Sisters could be considered a stylistic forefather.
The Backwater Gospel filmmakers–there’s eight of them–made a sincere attempt at stylization, not only in how they textured the characters and used flat lighting, but how they fused that together with a restrained style of movement that doesn’t immediately yell out, “I’m CG!” In particular, I love the stylized mouth shapes of the hobo character, which have a nice sculpted look.
Drenched in grim atmosphere, every frame looks like a fully rendered illustration; the effect of seeing the characters move through space so effortlessly appeared jarring at times because my eyes didn’t expect to see illustrations moving like this. Terrific use is also made of Flash, which is seamlessly integrated into the CGI.
Someone is selling Bob Clampett’s 1930 high school yearbook on eBay. Clampett, one of the best known short cartoon directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood animation, directed dozens of Warner Bros. cartoons including Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid, A Tale of Two Kitties, A Corny Concerto, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, and The Big Snooze, as well as created Beany & Cecil.
As a member of the yearbook staff, Clampett created numerous drawings for the 1930 volume of The Scroll, the yearbook for Glendale’s Herbert Hoover High School. He would have been sixteen years old at the time. Never being known for his drawing skills, Clampett’s early drawings bear that out and are cruder than the high school artwork I’ve seen for other Golden Age animation artists. His skills and abilities were elsewhere.
We’ve collected his yearbook drawings after the jump.
If you’re a regular reader of the Brew, then you might already be familiar with the companies discussed in today’s Wall Street Journal article about the rise of quickly-made, and in some cases do-it-yourself, digital animation. The companies were Xtranormal, Next Media Animation, and Go! Animate.
The article raises all sorts of fascinating questions. For example:
1.) Xtranormal now charges users an average of $1 to make a cartoon and expects to begin turning a profit by the middle of this year. Could charging people to create short animated films be the future of making money from on-line animation instead of charging people to watch cartoons.
2.) How far are we from the day when artists and studios license their artwork to companies like Xtranormal giving fans an easy-to-use system for creating cartoons based on popular characters. Let’s say you could create your own cartoon using characters from Gnomeo and Juliet. It could happen, and I can’t think of a better way of allowing someone to interact with an animated character that they like.
3.) Multiple examples are provided in the article of development execs and producers who have contacted writers after seeing their work on Xtranormal. How long will it be before an animated series is sold in Hollywood based on the work of a writer discovered on Xtranormal?
4.) Richard Appel, one of the exec producers on The Cleveland Show, said of Xtranormal’s cartoons: “It’s a writer’s medium that’s cleverly found a way to get people to look at their screen and listen to what’s being said.” Is that really any different from shows like South Park or any of Seth MacFarlane’s series? In TV animation, the visual elements of animation have been de-emphasized to the point where they no longer matter (Chuck Jones’s infamous “illustrated radio”), and Xtranormal appears to be only the next step in that evolution. But will there ever be an easy-to-use animation tool that allows the masses to take advantage of animation’s visual possibilities?
Disney director and animator Bill Justice passed away today, just one day after his 97th birthday. Besides animating on many of the classic Disney features like Bambi, Fantasia, and Peter Pan, he directed numerous projects at the studio and helped popularize paper cut-out animation, which has experienced a major resurgence in recent years.
Here are the opening titles he directed with X. Atencio for the film The Misadventures of Merlin Jones:
Below is a press release from the Walt Disney Company with details about his 42-career in animation and Imagineering:
Salon, of all places, published an excellent piece about animation character design. They interviewed designer Shannon Tindle (Coraline, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and some as-yet-to-be-released DreamWorks films) about why films like Gnomeo and Juliet and Bob Zemeckis’s mo-cap efforts have such poor character design and asked him to explain which mainstream features work and which don’t from a design perspective. He remains diplomatic throughout while delivering useful advice:
“For me, it should be something that’s believable but not necessarily realistic. Those are two things that people interchange quite a bit on productions — and I’ve been involved in a lot of them. From my point of view, it’s been proven that realism is not really appealing to an audience. Two good examples of successful design that audiences embraced — Kung Fu Panda and Up — are films that certainly were not realistic but had believable characters. A lot of people are actually afraid of stylizing characters in animated films, period. They tend to want to push it to be more realistic, but the first thing people see in an animated film is the characters, and if it’s a character that doesn’t have an appealing, believable design, they’re not going to feel any connection to it.”
(Image: Still from Mars Needs Moms)
David OReilly debuted his latest film on-line this afternoon. The External World premiered last September at the Venice Film Festival and has been racking up awards ever since, notably a grand prize at the Ottawa International Film Festival and an honorary mention at Sundance last month. I’ll leave it at that for now, but a lengthier review of the film will be posted shortly.
If Al Hirschfeld’s $5 million Manhattan townhouse was too rich for your blood, then you probably won’t want to hear about Jim Henson’s Manhattan townhouse, at 117 E. 69th St, which is listed for sale at around $28 million. Of course, when Henson purchased the 12,000 square foot space in 1977, he paid only $600,000 for it.
For several years, the building housed “a significant portion of the New York workshop,” according to the book Jim Henson: The Works. The workshop was “installed in a bright, airy basement area that opened onto a sunny courtyard and was illuminated by an enormous skylight projecting from the rear of the main building. It was there that you would find Calista Hendrickson decorating a gown for Miss Piggy with bugle beads. It was there that you would come across Leslee Asch restoring classic Muppet figures for a traveling museum show. It was there that you would encounter Faz Fazakas tinkering with electrodes and transistors.”
The Henson family sold the building in 2005 for $12.4 million. Since then, it’s been owned by wealthy, unimaginative financiers like Brian Brille, a Bank of America executive, and most recently, Edgar Bronfman Jr., CEO of Warner Music Group and Seagram liquor heir. According to the WSJ, Bronfman doesn’t even live in the building and rents an apartment when he’s staying in New York. The paper reports that Bronfman is “preparing to list the townhouse…at a time when sales of elite townhouse properties are showing renewed vigor after falling hard during the downturn.” It’s hard to understand exactly what ‘falling hard’ means considering that the home’s sale price has more than doubled in the past five years.
Below are a couple more photos of the building’s interior circa the Henson years. Sadly, the energy and magic of Manhattan is largely inaccessible nowadays to artists like Henson, and without those artists, the island’s unique vibe is fading away, no doubt to make room for more condos to house the rich and unimaginative. Thankfully, there’s always Brooklyn.
If this event isn’t already sold out, it will be soon. On Thursday evening, February 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present their annual Animated Feature Symposium. This year’s Oscar nominees–Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon), Sylvain Chomet (The Illusionist), and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3)–will speak about their films. Tickets are $5 (general admission) and $3 (students and Academy members). It takes place at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater (8949 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211). Tickets may be ordered through the Academy website.
According to the chart above, originally posted on The Animation Guild blog, last month DreamWorks employed 799 union artists, which matches the combined number of union artists employed by Nickelodeon, Fox, Film Roman, Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network. Granted, companies like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network produce countless non-union shows outside of their main studios, but as far as LA animation employment is concerned, DreamWorks rules the roost.
A new short by Fran Krause (Moonraker, Utica Cartoon), Nosy Bear is a character study of a bear in the woods. The “making of” video below serves as a fantastic look into Krause’s unconventional production methods. His dime-sized drawings were drawn sequentially in a sketchbook, but not overlayed to test the movement of the animation. When I saw the sketchbooks last summer, I wondered how it was all going to come together. Very well, in fact.
Call it a fan film, a proof of concept, or whatever you want, this one-minute traditionally animated Superman piece by Robb Pratt is a fun new take on the character that draws from classic elements, like Mischa Bakaleinikoff’s music from the live-action serial. Pratt, a Disney veteran, who has worked on features like Tarzan and Pocahontas and series like Kick Buttowski and Kim Possible, explains his reasons for making the film at the end of the video. It’s also nice to see the pencil tests in the credits.
Credits after the jump
Basic Brown Basic Blue (1969) is a recently unearthed short film directed by Homer Groening, the father of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. Here’s the description from The Academic Film Archive of North America which posted the film onto Archive.org:
Ever wonder how Matt Groening of ‘The Simpsons’ got his quirky sense of humor? Probably from his filmmaker dad, Homer Groening, who passed away in 1996. Although known for his documentaries, Homer Groening directed and narrated this film, ostensibly about color, but filled with an ongoing series of bikini-clad bathing beauties. The film is perhaps best viewed as a graphic artifact that will interest media historians seeking additional insight into the elements that influenced the cartoonist.
Prior to this, I knew nothing of Groening’s father. This obituary fills in some fascinating details about his life. There’s a certain sense of relief in learning that Groening’s father was nothing like the famous cartoon character named after him, but who would have expected a guy who sounds as calm and reserved as Mister Rogers? Well, at least the real Homer loved doughnuts, too.
This is what Homer Groening looked like in 1973, a few years after this film was made.