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.
A short but fun interview with Ralph Bakshi appeared in last week’s New York magazine. I particularly enjoyed this exchange between the interviewer and Bakshi:
You mentored Ren and Stimpy’s John Kricfalusi. But we can never forgive you for giving Thomas Kinkade his big break.
That son of a bitch! Kinkade was the coolest. If Kinkade wasn’t a painter, he’d be one of those cult leaders. Kinkade came into my office with James Gurney when I was looking for background artists [for Fire and Ice]. He’s a good painter, and he did a spiel. He made all these deals. How he went out and did what he did is beyond my understanding now. He’s very, very talented, and he’s very, very much of a hustler. Those two things are in conflict. Is he talented? Oh yeah. Will he paint anything to make money? Oh yeah. Does he have any sort of moralistic view? No. He doesn’t care about anything. He’s as cheesy as they come.
Designer Allister Roberts recently created a chart documenting the use of jazz in animated shorts between 1929 and 1945. He has generously allowed me to share his work with Brew readers. In addition to being informative, it’s a lovely piece of information graphics. Roberts tells me, “By all means this is not a complete list, as I purposely glazed over some lesser works, but barring time and money I would love the opportunity to completely flesh this out to cover entire eras.” Personally, I’d love to see him extend it out to cover the late-’40s and 1950s, when musicians like Oscar Peterson, Shorty Rogers and Ella Fitzgerald worked with animators like Norman McLaren, Bill Hurtz, Ernie Pintoff and John Hubley.
The above graphic will be reprinted in a forthcoming book by Robert Del Tredici, and a ten-foot printout of it is currently on display at the Mel Oppenheimer Centre in Montreal.
I’ve linked to Vince Collins’s animation before, but I hadn’t run across this hallucinogenic 1982 piece of animation he made called Malice in Wonderland. Quite appropriately, it was pointed out to me by Christy Karacas, who’s currently working on a trippy animated series of his own, Superjail. It’s probably NSFW but don’t let that stop you. Creator Collins also has a MySpace with an entertaining account of his animation career thus far and links to more of his work.
Recently I became curious to find out what is the most viewed original piece of animation on YouTube. The answer turned out to be a bit of a surprise: Charlie the Unicorn. The original posting of the short has nearly 23 million views, while another copy of the short is approaching 9 million views. There are dozens of other copies of the film floating around YouTube, so it’s safe to say that Charlie the Unicorn now has well over 32 million views on the video sharing site.
Anyway the reason I mention all this is that the creator, Jason Steele, recently unveiled the long-awaited followup Charlie the Unicorn 2 (posted below). In less than a month, the video has garnered nearly 1.5 million views on YouTube. Jason also has a website Filmcow.com that offers hi-res QuickTimes of the shorts and an online store selling Charlie merchandise.
The two Charlie the Unicorn shorts are firmly rooted in the contemporary strain of nonsensical non sequitur humor. Sometimes this type of humor works (Pen Ward’s Adventure Time) and most of the time it doesn’t (Family Guy, almost everything on “Adult Swim”). In the case of Charlie the Unicorn, I have to concede that the humor works nicely, and the clumsy animation only heightens the effect. I wasn’t expecting this short to be the most viewed original animation on YouTube, but looking at the success of Charlie can perhaps offer some clues about the type of cartoons that resonate with today’s online animation audiences.
A new exhibit opening at the Met today, entitled “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy,” is dedicated to exploring the “symbolic and metaphorical associations between fashion and the superhero”:
Featuring movie costumes, avant-garde haute couture, and high-performance sportswear, it reveals how the superhero serves as the ultimate metaphor for fashion and its ability to empower and transform the human body. Objects are organized thematically around particular superheroes, whose movie costumes and superpowers are catalysts for the discussion of key concepts of superheroism and their expression in fashion.
The exhibit is accompanied by a visually striking catalog designed by Abbott Miller. The Pentagram blog offers a preview of the book.
It’s been interesting to watch the convergence of fashion and comics over the past few years. While fashion designers are looking towards superhero comics for inspiration, comic artists and illustrators are jumping boldly into the world of fashion design, with notable examples including Paul Pope’s recent work for DKNY and James Jean’s designs for Prada.
I remember this site from a few years back and it’s now back online in blog form. The Journal of Cartoon Over-Analyzations doesn’t just analyze cartoons, it over-analyzes them and discovers hidden subtexts to cartoon characters that weren’t evident to even the creators themselves. A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek and seemingly designed to make fun of the pseudo-scholarly dissertations that so many academics have written about cartoons in recent times. Topics include: “My Little Pony is a lesbian-feminist separatist colony,” “Alchemical Symbolism in Smurfs,” and “Chromatic Sexism and Animated Felines.”
The winners have been announced for America’s longest continually-running animation award–the 39th ASIFA-East Animation Festival. The top prize, Best in Show, went to Fantaisie in Bubblewrap, the promising debut of young filmmaker Arthur Metcalf, whose work has previously been profiled on the Brew. Other works that I was pleased to see recognized include Germans in the Woods by the Rauch brothers, A Letter to Colleen by Andy and Carolyn London, Compost by Visual Voice, and The Upstate Four by Fran Krause and Will Krause, the latter being one of the more impressive TV show pilots I’ve seen in a while.
PerfectLand is an oddly appealing series of Flash-animated shorts created for MTV by Ben Meinhardt. I’ve embedded the first one below and the other three episodes can be viewed on MTV Overdrive. The shorts have an undeniable “green” theme–peaceful nature-loving creatures are constantly attacked by a heavy polluting, industrial villain–but the concept is saved from typical heavy-handed environmentalism because of Meinhardt’s wildly creative imaginary creatures and his skillful animation, which becomes really impressive whenever the cuddly creatures exact revenge. I’m looking forward to seeing more work from Ben.
I was bummed that I missed the centennial tribute to Tex Avery and Michael Maltese that was presented in LA last March, but I just learned that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is repeating the program in NYC next Monday, May 5. Even better, John Canemaker, who wrote Tex Avery: The MGM Years, is hosting the East Coast event. Cartoons on the schedule include A Wild Hare, You Ought To Be in Pictures, Little Rural Riding Hood, For Scent-imental Reasons, What’s Opera, Doc?, and The Legend of Rockabye Point.
General admission is $5, and students pay $3. In other words, there’s no reason to miss out seeing these amazing theatrical shorts on the bigscreen. Tickets may be reserved by calling 1-888-778-7575. Remaining tickets may be purchased in person the night of the event. The Academy Theater is located at 111 East 59th Street. For additional details, see the Academy website.
Pictoplasma is moving its conference on contemporary character design from Berlin to NYC this year. The two-day event will take place September 5-6 at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU, with confirmed speakers including Friends With You, Akinori Oishi, Aaron Stewart, David O’Reilly, Tim Biskup, Motomichi Nakamura, Fons Schiedon and Gangpol & Mit. Pictoplasma is also accepting entries for the animation screenings that will take place during the festival.
Earlier Pictoplasma character design conferences have received positive reviews, but I’ve always found it difficult to warm up to the idea of Pictoplasma. My biggest reservation about the enterprise is that they try to sell the idea of “character” as new and fresh, and as something that is proliferating as never before. This would be true only if their conception of “character” was created in a bubble and ignored the rich history of character design that came before them, which is sadly what Pictoplasma does as a movement.
Pictoplasma says, “Our visual culture is being revolutionized by a new breed of characters, abstract and reduced to minimal distinguishing graphic features.” I say, look at the work of Fifties character designers like Tom Oreb, T. Hee, John Hubley, Ernie Pintoff, Bobe Cannon and Ed Benedict who also created “a new breed of characters, abstract and reduced to minimal distinguishing graphic features.” They say, “In the process of a truly explosive movement, [characters] invade digital media, animation, advertising, art, fashion and street art.” I say, look at Walt Disney’s iconic use of Mickey Mouse beginning in the late-1920s, in which Mickey was a character who transcended individual media and boasted an all-encompassing presence in film, comics, books, toys, advertising and fashion.
Those with even the slightest grasp on history will have trouble looking at what Pictoplasma purports to be revolutionary and groundbreaking–like the characters in the lineup heading this post–and finding anything novel about the creations. This type of character design was already done decades ago, and I might add, with far more skill and invention. An awareness and respect for the artists who pioneered the “character design movement” would encourage today’s artists to build upon their predecessors’ character design work and push forward into uncharted territory instead of merely churning out pale imitations of earlier works.
A while back I mentioned briefly on this site that I had been offered an opportunity to write a book for Pixar, and today I thought I’d offer a few more details about it. The coffeetable book I’m working on, which will be out later this year, is directly tied in to the Pixar Short Films Collection dvd, and is an in-depth history of the studio’s early shorts. I was naturally thrilled when they asked me to come on board because, well, come on it’s Pixar, but also because I know the importance of shorts to the company’s history and the value that they place on creating animated shorts even now that they’re a successful feature studio. Admittedly, in the beginning, I was slightly concerned about whether there was enough to say about the shorts to fill an entire book, but it took only a couple weeks of working on the book before I was begging my editor to double the initial page count. We’re still in production on the book right now, and one thing I can say about it is that there’s a lot more text and meat in this than your average art of book. It’s exciting to see it come together and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Because the book’s content stretches back to André & Wally B. which was done before Pixar even officially existed, I had to familiarize myself with the ins and outs of the studio’s entire history. It’s truly a fascinating story. Today we look at Pixar as the untouchable 800-pound gorilla of computer animation so it’s easy to forget that not so long ago, they were a struggling hardware company and their animation division was comprised of just a handful of folks working in a company of over one hundred people. There was hardly a guarantee that their animation division would become what it is today, and it only happened because of the genius and vision of individuals like Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, Alvy Ray Smith, and a slew of computer whizzes like Bill Reeves, Loren Carpenter, Eben Ostby and Rob Cook.
When I began researching the book, I wanted to find a reliable source that would help me understand the early roots of Pixar and its earlier incarnation as the Computer Graphics Division of Lucasfilm. During an interview with Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith, he recommended I take a look at the recent book Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution. I took him up on that advice and am glad I did. This book is absolutely essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the roots of Pixar and its founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith. The book is not entirely about computer animation, because Lucas’ Computer Division also dealt with editing, game and sound programs, but the parts about Pixar’s pre-history make it well worth the money and the solid technical details and hardcore research are enough to satisfy the geekiest of the computer geeks. George Lucas has played a crucial role in contemporary filmmaking by introducing digital technology into all aspects of his productions, and this book is a wonderful document of how it happened…and as a result, how Pixar came out of it.
Speaking of essential, below is YouTube video with the author of the above book, Michael Rubin, interviewing Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird on stage. It’s 1 hour and 40 minutes, and it’s a fun and inspiring chat.
Just for the heck of it, let me share a few other random Pixar bits that I discovered online while researching the book:
Here’s a link to the personal website of Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith. He has an interesting page with rare Pixar documents and a page about the first “Pixar” short André & Wally B. with an amazingly in-depth PDF file about the making of that short.
Here’s a new link posted yesterday: Didier Ghez did a short interview with David Price, author of the just-about-to-be-released The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. I don’t know how the book will turn out, but it sounds like Price has done his homework and I can’t wait to read it.
Finally, one of the fascinating aspects of Pixar that nobody talks about is their TV commercial work. Did you know Pixar produced 71 TV commercials in the early- and mid-’90s? A complete list can be found by following this timeline on their site. They’re surprisingly difficult to locate online, but there’s a handful on Youtube, including the very first one the studio produced, for Tropicana, directed and animated by John Lasseter:
The 2008 Tribeca Film Festival kicks off this week and there are three animated features in competition. Each of them plays multiple times over the next week. Show times and ticket info can be found on clicking on the title of each feature. First up is the world premiere of Idiots and Angels, the latest from Bill Plympton. Fellow NY indie Nina Paley offers the American premiere of her feature Sita Sings the Blues. The film got a special jury mention at its world premiere last February in the Berlin International Film Festival. And finally, there’s a feature I’ve never heard of: a celebrity voice-heavy, indie CG feature titled Terra directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas. Check this last one out at your own risk.
Over the past couple years, I’ve mentioned the French animated feature Peur(s) du Noir, which is a collection of black-and-white horror tales. I finally saw the film a few weeks ago, and though I admired the effort to do something different, the overall experience was underwhelming. The themes and ideas made an attempt to be “adult,” but the quality of storytelling was lackluster and didn’t engage an adult’s mind. Part of the problem was that the filmmakers were primarily comic artists whose lack of animation training was evident, and who didn’t seem to grasp the inherent possibilities within animated filmmaking.
The notable exception was the segment directed by illustrator Richard McGuire whose piece was not only the most minimalist, but also the most intense and frightening. Graphic design historian Steven Heller recently interviewed Richard McGuire about his work on the film and it’s a good read.
There’s no word yet of a US release date for the film but here are a few related links: the official film website, a clip from McGuire’s segment, and a blog with a thoughtful review of the film by Ed Howard.
Reproduction of a 1936 scrapbook made during Ingeborg Willy’s first year working as an inker for the Walt Disney Studios. The scrapbook contains numerous photos of other Disney employees, internal memos, production work sheets, and a large number of original pencil sketches from the first feature-length animated film, Snow White, and other early Disney cartoons.
I’m going to wait to hear more before recommending it though. As is often the case with self-published books like this, the quality of image reproduction and presentation could leave a lot to be desired. The amateurish cover design certainly doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. But it could potentially be a very cool book.
Apparently, all the important causes that a corporation could pretend to care about have already been snatched up, so ice cream manufacturer Haagen-Dazs got stuck with saving honeybees. The operatic CG spot that promotes the campaign was created by Psyop:
Folks in Manhattan may want to check out the Animazing Gallery in Soho (461 Broome St.) which has a show of new paintings by Ralph Bakshi. The work will only be on display through this weekend. I saw it a few nights ago and was impressed with Bakshi’s aggressive and loose painting style. His paintings tend to be ‘loud’, much like the man himself, but there’s also a great deal of sophistication in the draftsmanship and composition, and particularly, I felt, in his use of color. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a few of them hanging on my walls. For those who can’t make it, lo-rez versions of the paintings have been posted online.
Also, last week, Bakshi was interviewed on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC. It’s a delightful 17-minute chat with plenty of intelligent questions from the interviewer. Bakshi discusses his early Terrytoons career and also talks about the importance of honest expression in music and the arts in general. You can listen to a streaming version or download an MP3 on the WNYC website.
This one’s a must-see! Orgesticulanismus by Mathieu Labaye of Camera Etc. starts out slow but quickly turns into one of the most impressive shorts I’ve seen in a while. It’s an animator’s film with lots of beautiful, wildly creative hand-drawn animation on display. I just find it incredibly inspiring to see skilled animators freestyling and having fun with the graphic possibilities of the medium. The film appears to have some deeper meaning as well; it’s a tribute to the late BenoÃ®t Labaye, and the French dialogue is the voice of Labaye. It’s on YouTube, but embedding is disabled, so head over here to watch it.
Below are the opening titles to the upcoming series Kaiba, created and directed by Masaaki Yuasa, the genius visionary behind Mind Game. A few more details on the series, which is described as a sci-fi romance, can be found on Wikipedia.
And here is a tantalizing clip from Kemonozume, Yuasa’s first TV series made in 2006. Considering how much I admired Mind Game, I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen this series yet, though Ben Ettinger’s write-ups about the 13 episodes make it sound phenomenal. Even in this short clip, the graphic invention and cinematic quality of storytelling are astounding, and so far beyond anything I’ve ever seen in American TV animation. The only thing that surprises me is that Yuasa’s work isn’t more readily available in the United States. (Thanks, Brandon)
Henri Wong, an animator and motion graphics designer from Hong Kong, sent in a link to an eye-catching animated title sequence he recently created for the live-action feature Run Papa Run. Wong writes, “The animation is all about the nightmare of a gangster father running away from all kinds of fear and danger. More detail about the film can be found here.” Wong also did the animated sequences in this bizarre live-action short titled Solutions (warning: features animated arse stabbing).
Great music can be a roller coaster of emotion, both figuratively and literally. This new CG spot for the Zurich Chamber Orchestra is a conceptual winner. Watch a quality version on No Fat Clips. Wasn’t able to find production company credits for the commercial but the agency is Euro RSCG Switzerland.
Four major animation festivals on four different continents are coming up soon: France’s Annecy in June, Brazil’s Anima Mundi in July, Japan’s Hiroshima in August and Canada’s Ottawa in September. It’s well worth setting aside time to attend any one of these major festivals. Not only are festivals a great place to see animated films that are otherwise inaccessible and to meet people who are passionate about the possibilities of the art form, they’re also a lot of fun. Jerry and I will be attending at least a couple of these events. Let everybody know in the comments which one of these fests you’ll be attending.
Annecy ’08, from June 9-14, includes a focus on emerging animation from India, an Ã‰mile Cohl retrospective, a presentation on Winsor McCay by John Canemaker, and both an exhibiton and screening related to Tex Avery. Also the official film selections have been announced.
Anima Mundi takes place in Rio de Janeiro from July 11-20 and in SÃ£o Paulo from July 23-27. There’s not much on their website yet, but they always manage to put together quality programs and guests.
Ottawa ’08 is happening September 17-21. They just launched a redesigned website including a preview of this year’s special programs. Highlights include: John Canemaker chatting in-person with the reclusive Richard Williams, a program about “new wave Japanese animation”, retrospectives of Michael Sporn and Jonas Odell, a four-part look at Canadian animation auteurs based on Chris Robinson’s new book Looking for A Place to Happen: On the Road with Canadian Animators, and an animation propaganda program curated by Karl Cohen.
Does anybody still use Amiga computers to create animation? Eric Schwartz apparently does and he recently finished this nicely animated tribute to Amiga computers, created on an Amiga 4000T. (via Waxy)
According to a note posted by PaulD on this message board, veteran animator and director Andy Knight, died last Thursday, April 10, at age 46 after suffering a stroke. He was the co-founder of Toronto animation studio Red Rover, and had a long animation career in Europe and Canada. His early years are summed up a bit on the Red Rover website: “Launching his career as an animator at Gaumont in Paris he worked on many feature films, television shows and commercials across Europe and the US. Andy’s abilities were quickly noticed and he was asked to join Passion Pictures in London  as creative director.”
Feature animator TotalD offers some thoughts on her blog about Andy’s work, including this comment: “Even so I think he was one of the best, if not the best board artist I have ever known and I know he was just a terrific person.”
If you’d like to share memories about Knight and his work, please do so in the comments below. Artist Rich Dannys emailed some memories to us about working with Knight. Rich writes:
I worked at Andy’s studio, when we worked on episodes of Spumco’s Ripping Friends. But his studio was probably more renowned for its always excellent animated commercial work.
I sat next to Andy, while working on Ripping Friends. He could be a little shy and quiet. Which sometimes got confused with aloof & arrogant. But he was an unbelievable artist. And I really respected him a lot. He had a small office space. But for the most part, enjoyed working right in amongst the rest of us. Very much in the old style of the smaller New York studios, from yesteryear.
I believe he was Canadian-born but met his wife Linzi overseas. His wife Linzi is an Art College grad and a very successful live-action commercial director. I thought he mentioned, they met in Holland. But I believe she’s from England originally? He was working at his own studio in England, when Disney asked him to direct the sequel to Beauty & The Beast,, at their “new” Toronto studio. He balked, until Disney agreed to pay all of the expenses to move his studio to Toronto. He eventually set up in the Spadina/Adelaide area.
I don’t know alot about what Andy has all worked on. I know he had a friendship with Mike Smith from (Colossal) Pictures. And that they worked on the animated sequences in the live-action Tank Girl feature. His studio, Red Rover, did a lot of service work-type jobs. But they were also instrumental in “developing” a lot of properties that eventually ended up elsewhere like Pig City and RoboRoach. But I’m sure there were others.
When we worked on Ripping Friends, I saw him put together a small ad for home security that featured a very classical Disney-esque “Big Bad Wolf & The Three Pigs.” Beautifully done. All of his work was always very polished and finished-looking and worked within the Budgets given. And for the most part, he turned down the really “cheap” stuff.
Honestly, I didn’t know him all that well. But my buddy Jens Pindal (son of Kaj) worked at Red Rover, so, I used to drop by there now and then. I’ve been looking for more online reports about Andy’s passing, but haven’t been able to find any.