“Alice” is an electronic piece of music by a young South African artist named Nick Bertke. He explains that “90% is composed using sounds recorded from the Disney film ‘Alice In Wonderland’.” Music video is below, MP3 download is for free here.
Joel Trussell has directed a second video for the English band Morcheeba, based on their single “Gained the World.” Animation leaves a lot to be desired and visual pacing is disconnected from the flow of the song, but design and color are typically pretty Trussell. It’d be great to see his visual sensibility applied to stronger animation and direction one of these days. Video credits on Trussell’s blog.
Critics are beginning to weigh in on Bill Plympton’s latest feature Idiots and Angels, which is now playing around the festival circuit. There’s not many indies who can claim to have made their own animated feature, but this is, quite amazingly, Bill’s fifth(!) full-length animated feature, all funded entirely with his own money. My favorite review so far is this one from Variety which uses an uncommon if not impressive grouping of words to describe the film–words like “Manichean,” “Bukowskian,” and “physiognomic transmutations.”
This review from the Auteur’s Notebook is more mixed; it applauds Plympton’s visual ingenuity and storytelling over the originality of the story and character development, an argument that would hold water for many of Plympton’s efforts. Eye For Film has a view similar to that of the previous reviewer, though it concludes that the film is worth checking out: “[I]f the storyline is treading over some old ground, Plympton’s animation gives it a fresh lease of life.”
For my part, I’m looking forward to checking out the film next month in Annecy. I thought Bill’s last feature Hair High was his strongest to date, and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can top that accomplishment. Below is a short interview with Plympton from last month’s Tribeca Film Festival:
In this article Jeffrey Katzenberg talks about how little he knows about animation, which shouldn’t exactly come as news to anybody who’s seen the films that DreamWorks Animation produces.
UPDATE: I’m sorry to report that this post has pushed a sensitive CalArts grad over the edge. Bad Cartoon Brew, bad.
A quick update about last week’s story about the new Israeli animated feature Waltz with Bashir. The Hanuka brothers–Asaf and Tomer–created art for the film and have posted some examples on their blog. It just goes to show that a director who understands art and knows who to hire can get impressive artwork even into a low budget animated feature like Waltz which cost only $2 million.
(Thanks, Meghan Kinder)
Links to a few nice creator interviews I’ve recently run across:
Wired offers a nice interview with Nina Paley in which she discusses how she made an animated feature, Sita Sings the Blues on her Mac for $200,000.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone reflect on 11 years of South Park in the Onion’s A.V. Club.
An old Entertainment Weekly interview with Brad Bird that was never published in their print magazine. Lots of good behind-the-scenes on Ratatouille.
Duct tape + empty wall + 24 hours = Interesting animation experiment.
(Thanks, Karl Cohen)
Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal attempts to make sense of the spectacular box office failure of Speed Racer, which raced to becoming a bona fide flop both in the US and overseas. He writes:
“[C]haos isn’t a surefire selling tool, not even when the target audience is sensation-hungry kids…Kids need inoculation against media-generated chaos. That’s not to suggest seeking out entertainment that preaches, peddles homilies, hustles uplift or shies away from the darker areas of human experience that inform some of our most cherished fairy tales (or, for that matter, one of my most cherished films, Carol Reed’s “Oliver!”). It’s more than enough when movies enhance a sense of wonder (and, as a byproduct, a capacity for concentration); when they delight and surprise (as Pixar productions do so dependably); when they open up the world through the window of thrilling fiction.”
Director and animator Will Finn also shares some worthwhile filmmaking insights on his blog about why Speed Racer was so poorly received by audiences.
While DreamWorks debuted its umpteenth cookie-cutter ‘hip’ animal comedy, Kung Fu Panda, at the Cannes Film Festival this past week, it’s another animated feature that’s been making big waves at the French festival, one that actually uses to its advantage the art form’s vast potential. Waltz with Bashir is only the second animated feature ever produced in Israel. Directed and written by Ari Folman, it is a documentary about the 1982 massacre at the Shatila and Sabra Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, recounted through first-hand accounts from soldiers who participated in the war.
The film, which incorporates a medley of cel, Flash, CG and live-action, has been gaining raves since its debut including write-ups in Cinematical, NY Times and Time magazine. GreenCine also has a nice roundup of coverage for the film. What the film may lack in the animation quality and polish that we are accustomed to in stateside features, it seems to make up for with its ambition and dedication towards using the medium to create something that is actually meaningful and relevant to our times. Below is the film trailer followed by an excerpt from the film. (Thanks, Yoni Salmon, for the tip)
UPDATE: Just noticed that CHF also wrote about the film this morning. They have a link to the film’s official website which has production notes that say the film took four years to produce at a cost of $2 million.
I received the Fall/Winter 2008 Chronicle Books catalog yesterday, and there are a few animation-related books that should be of interest to Brew readers. The prelim cover to my book, the previously announced The Art of Pixar Short Films, is above. You can find out more about the book by clicking on this info sheet about the book. It’s slated now for a February 2009 release. Pre-order on Amazon.
I’ve also posted the info sheets below for two other cartoon entries from Chronicle (click for larger versions). Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts by Rob Smith is the first history of Lucas’s videogame division, which turned out classic games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. It’s coming out in December 08. Also notable, Disney Feature Animation is releasing its first ‘art of’ book through Chronicle. You guessed it…it’s The Art of Bolt by Mark Cotta Vaz, scheduled for release this November.
Talk about dedicated cartoon buffs. There’s a group of Pixar fanatics who are spending months building their own life-size replicas of Wall-E…and the film doesn’t even come out until next month. The results are impressive. Here’s a few of the vides showing different Wall-Es in various stages of progress.
It also looks like an official “real” version of Wall-E exists:
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the first footage from Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist will debut this month at Cannes. The hand-drawn and CG feature, scheduled for release in the UK and France in 2009, is budgeted at $22 million, quite a bit heftier than Chomet’s earlier Triplets of Belleville which had a modest budget of $8 million. The story of the film, based on an unproduced script by French comic legend Jacques Tati, is described by the Reporter as the tale “of a dying breed of stage entertainer whose thunder is being stolen by emerging rock stars. Forced to accept increasingly obscure assignments in fringe theaters, garden parties and bars, he meets a young fan who changes his life forever.”
Speaking of Chomet, here’s an oldie but goodie: an article he wrote for the NY Times in 2004 about his time working at Disney, as well as the general lack of personal vision in contemporary animated features. The experience he describes of working at Disney Toronto is sadly one that is repeated far too frequently throughout the industry. Chomet writes:
“Once, my team in Canada was sent to Los Angeles to meet the people in charge of our project there. By this time we were on the sixth rewrite of the script, and we had a daylong brainstorming session in which we were locked in a big room with executives and so-called creatives. One executive suggested a rewrite incorporating an idea she had in the car that morning. Heads nodded, notes were scribbled and script No. 7 was born. It was like watching a runaway steam train being driven by a flock of headless chickens.”
It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my latest book Inside UPA but there’s a couple important reasons to write about it now. Firstly, of the fifty signed editions of the book, there are only six copies left. In other words, if you want a copy signed by the legendary likes of Millard Kaufman, Fred Crippen, Willis Pyle, Bob Dranko, Bob McIntosh, Erv Kaplan, Gene Deitch, Sam Clayberger, Dolores Cannata, Howard Beckerman, Joe Siracusa, David Weidman, Joe Messerli, Edna Jacobs, and Alan Zaslove, then now would be a good time to pick one up.
The other reason for mentioning the book is that Tee Bosustow, son of UPA co-founder Stephen Bosustow, will have the books available for sale this Saturday, May 17, at the Animation BookLook in LA. Only 1000 copies of this book were printed and I’d love to see them go into the hands of people who appreciate the accomplishments and legacy of the studio. Every sale also helps raise funds to help Tee continue his UPA research and film documentary efforts. If you want to enjoy a one-of-a-kind photographic tribute to animation’s greatest design-oriented studio, pick up a copy of Inside UPA from Tee this weekend or order one from the UPA website.
I’m fascinated by the continually emerging stories of women who worked in creative positions at Disney during its Golden Age. Women didn’t have it easy at the studio, but through sheer determination and dedication, a surprisingly large number of them managed to find their way into artistic positions, including Retta Scott, Bee Selck and Retta Davidson.
Semi-related is this reprint of a Parents’ Magazine article from January 1949 in which Walt Disney describes everything that he’s learned about girls and women. The article is prefaced with new comments from Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller.
A book about the achievements (and struggles) of women artists at Disney would have been amazing, but sadly we’ve missed the boat on that one. Nearly everybody who should have been interviewed for such a book is now deceased. Through the Internet, however, we can begin to put together pieces of the puzzle and gain a better understanding of their role in creating the classic Disney films.
Back before Walter Lantz created Woody Woodpecker, he liked to draw ‘woodies’ of a different kind. Animator Marc Deckter offers an appreciation of the skewed cartoon logic in the 1920 silent “Jerry on the Job” short called Swinging His Vacation. Crudely drawn and animated no doubt but still oddly entertaining.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately, none of those words are appropriate for printing on this blog. Even when I dismiss all prior knowledge of what Chris Sanders’ original vision for this film was, these designs for Disney’s next feature, Bolt, look downright embarrassing. They veer disturbingly close to this, but we’re not talking about some cheap startup animation studio here. This is Disney dammit…the friggin standard-bearer of this art form for much of the past hundred years. What could possibly be the defense for such witless homely unimaginative designs? Somebody at Disney please fill me in…publicly or privately. Because I’m seriously having difficulty believing that some of the most highly skilled animation artists in the world could come up with something that looks only slightly better than your average student film.
(image via Character Design blog)
This Variety article explains how 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Broadcasting Co. are launching Fox Inkubator, a new inititative designed to find and develop animated projects. The program will give animators the opportunity to make two-to-three minute shorts, and the successful ones will later be developed into pilots and series. Inkubator, headed by Jennifer Howell, a former supervising producer on South Park, could eventually turn out up to 25 shorts a year. Most notable, unlike development programs at other networks, the Inkubator shorts will be distributed online and available to the public.
In addition to Inkubator, 20th Century Fox has established an in-house animation department for the first time in its history. It is also headed by Howell. The Variety article makes it sound as if Fox is dedicating its future to animation in a big way. Various Fox execs are quoted in the piece saying that animated series “have done so much for us financially and building the brand of this studio. We felt we needed to shine a bigger and brighter light on the future of animation production at this studio,” and “Animation is the perfect product for the world we live in, where DVD sales are so critical, appealing to young men is so critical, and there’s growing digital distribution of shortform content.”
Read between the lines though and things look less rosy. For example, take this quote from one of the suits about the production costs of the Inkubator shorts: “It will be cost effective given the way technology has developed…This isn’t about paying big premiums or big fees to writers. It’s intended to be done on a less-expensive scale.” In other words, they’re likely planning to hire a bunch of young artists and have them produce a crapload of cheapo Flash cartoons with the hope that audiences latch onto one of them. That’s too bad. I’ve long felt that development programs today are shortsighted by focusing on the creation of one-hit wonders and trendy properties, instead of pouring their resources into the long-term development and nurturing of talented artists, who in turn could develop many successful properties. Perhaps if any good comes out of the Inkubator, Fox will finally realize that there are plenty of talented animation creators out there whose names don’t begin with “Seth” and end with “MacFarlane.” I’m not holding my breath though.
Nick Uff’s new videos for Portishead songs “The Rip” and “We Carry On” are two of my favorite pieces of animation so far this year. This article from the Bournemouth Echo says that the 44-year-old Uff makes his living as a gardener, which helps to explain why I’ve never heard of him or seen his beautiful hand-drawn animation before. The lo-fi look is authentic; Uff shoots all his work on 16mm. He says about his work, “I don’t storyboard my ideas, but let the films go where they take themselves. There’s all sorts of ideas in there – things that have happened, a bit of social comment – like a stream of consciousness you could say. Each frame has to be different, animated films cannot stand still. That means they can be quite difficult on the eye, especially in the style I use, it’s very busy, a bit scratchy.”
“We Carry On”
“Bugs Bunny, Greatest Banned Player Ever”, a ridiculously long and deadpan examination of Friz Freleng’s Baseball Bugs (1946), is a treat for any baseball fan like myself. The piece was recently selected for inclusion in the 2007 Best American Sportswriting annual. To follow along with the analysis, I’ve posted Freleng’s short below. (Thanks, Mark Newgarden)
Dutch director and animator Fons Schiedon, previously featured on Cartoon Brew and quickly becoming a favorite director of mine, just finished a lovely looking music video for Amsterdam-based band VOICST. Schiedon tells me, “The video was completed in just about five weeks from animatic to final (a schedule that leans towards insanity I must admit), working with basically the same compact team that previously worked with me on the MTV ASIA Mobbed series (2006). Technically, we’re looking at cel-style Flash-animation and Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop/Maya backgrounds in an AfterEffects composite.” The character animation was created by Brazilian studio Birdo. Watch the video and read a ‘making-of’ on Fons’ site.
Does the fact that cartoon channels like Cartoon Network and Teletoon are no longer interested in airing animation have any relation to the fact that Ice Age director Chris Wedge and Ratatouille director Brad Bird are now directing live-action features. Animation director Mark Mayerson seems to thinks so and his commentary is a thought-provoking read. Here’s what Mayerson has to say about directors like Wedge and Bird who are trying out live-action:
“As much as we want to believe that animation is a medium and not a genre, maybe everybody outgrows it after a while. Which isn’t to say that animation isn’t capable of more than it’s currently doing, but looking at what’s out there now, it’s not hard to sympathize with directors who want to try something new.”
One of the most rewarding parts of running Cartoon Brew is hearing from artists who are inspired by the items that we post here. Here are letters from two regular readers who have recently completed short animated pieces. The first letter is from Jerry Pyle:
“my friend, dion labriola and i just finished a music video for singer/songwriter daniel ahearn. we employed a few animation techniques that i thought you might be interested in seeing. in addition to the flash animation you see at the beginning, middle and end of the video, we used cut out animation for much of the song and for the chorus, we used an “eight-frame-fade” technique where we printed out every eighth frame, stapled them all together and nailed them to a pole outside, ripping off each frame and rephotographing it. the look suprised us.
“i’m a big fan of cartoon brew. you’ve turned me on to a lot of great animation both new and old and its a daily destination for me on the web. i’m sending along this link so you can put the video on the brew if you like. and also to show you what you in some way have inspired. thanks.”
The next letter is from John Brown (aka Jaye Bhee):
I’m an aspiring animator, busting my hump to put myself through animation courses (animation mentor, more specifically), and I’m so grateful to have cartoon brew as an enormous inspirational “bottomless well” of inspiration and history (I am obsessed with classic black and white cartoons)…
I’ve even done a sort of faux-homage (fauxmage?) to classic animation myself. It’s my first real try at a do-it-yourself animation (a la Bill Plympton), but I find it extremely rewarding (but exhausting, haha).
Anywho, if you have a free 2 minutes, feel free to check it out. If not, just know that what you’re doing is of incredible importance to beginners like me, and you guys provide constant inspiration. Thanks a quadrillion!
Richard Mitchelson writes in to tell me about a new ad that he animated in Flash for Christian Aid Week. Though created before any of the recent natural disasters, it’s unfortunately very timely at the moment because of the tragedies in Myanmar and China. The spot was directed by 2AM’s PAM (Paul, Anthony, Malcolm), designed by graphic collective Eboy, and composited in Flame by Jason Watts of Finish. I really like this spot; not only is it well animated, but in a commercial world of rapid-fire cutting and dizzying camera angles, it’s refreshing to see a static isometric-shot for an entire 30-second commercial.
Lena Grieseke created this 3D “exploration” of Picasso’s famed painting “Guernica.” In the description of the project, Grieseke writes that recreating the work in 3D “provides the unusual opportunity to view the painting from a unique perspective, revealing aspects that would normally stay hidden from the casual viewer.” While experimentation like this is worth applauding, I’d also argue that the 3D adds little to the original. The power of the painting derives largely from Picasso’s nightmarish Cubist-inflected composition, and attempting to ‘deconstruct’ the objects in realistic space diminishes the graphic impact of the original work. Picasso’s work is certainly not off-limits to animated interpretation, but I think such attempts are better served when there is original thought behind the artwork, as in Juan Pablo Etcheverry’s Minotauromaquia, instead of exercises in recreating his artwork literally.