Throughout the history of the animation art form, there have been a select group of innovators who have pushed the medium to its limits and explored the potential of animation to its fullest. These artists include Winsor McCay, Walt Disney, Max Flesicher, Tex Avery, John Hubley…and now, I’m pleased to announce, Fred and Sharon.
Fred and Sharon, hailing from Kelowna, Canada are redefining the possibilities of filmmaking and animation by producing movies for any type of occasion. You can learn about their skills by watching this introductory piece below, entitled “Who Needs a Movie.”
Of course, Cartoon Brew is an animation website and thankfully for us, Fred and Sharon are specialists in the art of animation. They work in a dizzying array of styles, including hi-end computer animation that is seamlessly integrated into live-action settings…
to a traditional hand-drawn look…
to more painterly and experimental styles of animation…
For more of their filmmaking magic, visit FredandSharonsMovies.com or their YouTube page. And when you see them accepting an Oscar, just remember that you read about them on Cartoon Brew first.
There’s an intriguing story in yesterday’s news wires about how Disney is producing a new TV version of Lilo and Stitch specifically targeted towards Japanese audiences. The new series, titled Stitch!, which will be produced by Japanese animation studio Madhouse (Ninja Scroll, Cardcaptor Sakura), replaces the orphan Lilo with a Japanese girl named Hanako, and transplants the setting from Hawaii to a tropical island in Okinawa, Japan. The series will premiere on Japan’s Disney channel in October.
Nothing says more about the sad, pathetic, desperate, moribund state of the US TV animation industry than the fact that Seth MacFarlane is the only artist trusted to create new animated shows for a major TV network.
The finished product is exactly the type of cute, fun and appealing cartoon idea that I don’t expect any contemporary animation network to produce because…well…because it’s cute, fun and appealing in a day and age that demands loud, obnoxious and ugly.
Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became An American Icon Along the Way is a book chronicling the behind-the-scenes history of the famous children’s book publisher. Though it is published by Golden Books, it appears to be more than your average corporate fluff piece, and seemingly has lots of original historical research. It is also copiously illustrated with illustrations and photos, and includes coverage of all our Golden Book favorites including Mary Blair, Gustaf Tenggren, Aurelius Battaglia, JP Miller, Alice and Martin Provensen, Mel Crawford and Tibor Gergely, among others. If anbody has actually read the book, please share your thoughts about it in the comments.
Pete Mitchell, frontman of the band No More Kings, writes to Cartoon Brew:
“i’ve checked cartoonbrew pretty much every day for the past year and a half, and it never ceases to provide inspiration. i’ve always been a huge fan of ghostbot‘s work, and i finally had the pleasure of hiring them to animate my new music video.”
The music video, for their song “Michael (Jump In),” can be seen below. More behind-the-scenes details about the production of the animation are being posted both at the band’s blog and on the Ghostbot blog.
Superjail is an animated series set in the cooler, but Brew reader Dominic Bisignano points out that there’s a non-profit organization called Giant Elephants Roam that teaches actual prisoners how to animate. The website features short animation tests created by inmates at the Antelope State Valley Prison in Lancaster, California, which is where the pilot program is currently underway. The program was conceived by CalArts student Vita Rabinovich. Below is an example of animation created by inmate “Doc.”
Imagination, an experimental indie feature that combines live-action with hand-drawn animation, stop-motion puppet animation, pixilation, and time-lapse, was released onto dvd earlier this week. The dvd offers numerous special features including:
1. “Making Imagination” Documentary with cast/crew interviews
2. “Behind The Animation” Documentary with director Eric Leiser
3. Q&A with the Leiser brothers & Ed Gildersleeve at Sunset 5 Theatres
4. Isolated Film Score
5. Stills Gallery
6. Director’s Statement
Additionally, the film has two theatrical screenings scheduled for this weekend. Tonight, it plays in Portland at the Hollywood Theatre, and on Saturday evening, it screens at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington. Director Eric Leiser will be present at both screenings, as will his brother Jeffrey Leiser, who co-wrote the film and composed the film’s music.
To read reviews of Imagination and find out about future theatrical screenings, visit the film’s MySpace page. The film was previously mentioned on the Brew last July.
Richard Williams’s epic first animated short The Little Island (1958) has been posted online. Highly stylized, dialogueless, serious themes, and over half an hour long, the film definitely takes some effort to sit through. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating–and surprisingly offbeat–early work by a contemporary animation legend, and well worth a view.
Seemingly the funniest and cartooniest animated projects nowadays are set in jails. There’s the Japanese CG series Usavich, which was written up here last month, and now there’s Superjail, an Adult Swim pilot from last spring which is being turned into a series.
Superjail is one of those rare pieces of animation that reaffirms my faith in mainstream industry animation. (A clip from the pilot episode is posted below; the full series premieres later this year.) At first glance, it’s an unlikely candidate for greatness: it is, after all, a Flash-animated show for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. But Superjail defies all expectations, both for Flash and Adult Swim. Far from the typical Adult Swim fare of characters standing around with their lips flapping, this show takes advantage of the fact that it’s animated, packing every scene with outlandish visual gags, hilarious drawings, frenetic animation, bright colors and enough gratuitous cartoon violence to fill a thousand Popeye shorts.
The premise of the series is simple: Superjail is an ultra-violent prison complex run by a mad Willy Wonka-esque warden determined to “perfect the art of incarceration.” He is aided by a butch guard Alice, an alcoholic accountant Jared, and the punishing robot Jail-bot. Beyond this basic setup, anything goes. It’s a stream-of-conscious free-for-all that’s both exhilaratingly creative and guaranteed to offend. Heidi MacDonald of The Beat blog called the pilot “the most incoherent, violent and irredeemable thing I have ever seen.” Luckily for her, she hasn’t seen the actual show yet. I’ve managed to peep a bit more beyond the pilot and can say that the pilot is only a taste of what’s to come.The actual series is even nuttier and more insane.
Graphically, Superjail achieves a level of cartoon grotesquerie that would make Basil Wolverton blush. There are also hints of Mike Judge, Yellow Submarine, alternative comics, and Wes Archer’s classic short Jac Mac & Rad Boy . The results are grungy and raw; real cartoons by real cartoonists without any of the on-model fussiness and overcautiousness that hinders most of today’s TV animation.
Superjail is created by Christy Karacas, Stephen Warbrick and Ben Gruber. Karacas is directing the series and Aaron Augenblick, whose Augenblick Studios is producing the series, serves as the animation director. The stories are written by Karacas, Warbrick, Augenblick and other animators on the show, with the finished scripts penned by John Glaser and John Lee. A host of other fine cartoonists and animators are contributing to the series including Fran Krause, Will Krause, Jesse Schmal and M. Wartella.
The show also puts to rest the fallacy that Adult Swim shows are poorly animated because of their small budgets. The creators of Superjail have not only managed to deliver impressive animation on a standard Adult Swim budget, but they’re producing the series entirely in the US, from pre-production through final animation. New York-based Augenblick Studios is cutting few corners on the production, with little reliance on stock expressions and poses, and plenty of original drawing in every episode. Even the impressively laborious animated pan used in the opening titles is being re-animated for each episode with new backgrounds.
It’s refreshing to see a production that puts its budget back onto the screen and gives audiences quality that they can enjoy. I’ll try to write more about the studio’s production pipeline in the future, but suffice to say, Augenblick is one of the few studios that operates with a “no producers” policy.
Superjail will debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line-up in summer ’08 with an initial order of ten 11-minute episodes. Until then, check out some of the earlier shorts by Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick like Barfight and Space War.
A few preview stills from the series. Click on the pics for bigger versions.
A little creativity goes a long way, which is why this hand-drawn music video created by Nadia Barkate, Marion Cruza and Eider Gutierrez is such a delight. It’s for the Spanish rock group Paniks. (via BoingBoing)
* Pixar story supervisor Ronnie del Carmen writes about the celebration at the studio following their Oscar win for Ratatouille. Identifications for the above photo of Pixar story artists can be found on Ronnie’s blog.
* Production designer Bill Cone (A Bug’s Life, Cars) has started a blog to showcase his plein air pastel paintings.
* How does a graphic designer fit in at Pixar? Rataouille title designer Susan Bradley explains her role at the studio in this interview.
Michael Knapp, who is currently art directing Ice Age 3 at Blue Sky, has redesigned his website MichaelKnapp.com and added a blog as well. The site includes lots of his development and design work from Blue Sky’s earlier films like Ice Age: The Meltdown and Robots, while his blog offers a preview of his new comic that’ll be published in the soon-to-be-released second edition of the comic anthlogy Out of Picture.
John Kricfalusi’s visual analysis of Bob Clampett’s The Hep Cat offers interesting ideas about why this particular cartoon works so well:
“It’s not Clampett’s funniest cartoon, although it is pretty funny. It doesn’t have any star characters in it. What makes it stand out, then? This cartoon is a mood piece. It’s an experiment in atmosphere and emotion…I think the best cartoons revel in goofiness and achieve a kind of gorgeous beauty not attainable in any other medium. Clampett takes the wacky surrealism natural to cartoons and places it in a lush atmosphere.”
This post got deleted during our troublesome server upgrade last week so I’ll try it again. As a followup to a post earlier this month, above are two more photos which have appeared on eBay of actress Hattie Noel from her posing sessions as the model for Hyacinth Hippo in Disney’s Fantasia.
Alex Rannie writes that Hattie Noel’s live-action work can also be found on YouTube. This clip is a cameo in The Women (Hattie appears as the maid on the train at 00:24). Even more interesting is the clip posted below about which Rannie writes:
This is a specialty dance sequence, “Alice Blue Gown,” from Irene (1940) which features Hattie Noel dancing up a storm (Hattie enters at 03:47 and jitterbugs at 04:32). Hattie’s part is all too brief, but if you keep an eye peeled you can get a sense of how she helped to inspire the animators to great heights in Fantasia’s “Dance of the Hours.”
One more note: Disney Editions will be publishing a book later this year by dance historian Mindy Aloff entitled Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation. This would be the ideal platform to officially acknowledge Noel’s heretofore unacknowledged contributions to the Disney canon. Alex Rannie, who has been helping out with the research for that book, says that because of our post earlier this month, there is indeed a chance that Noel’s work on the film will be included in the book, which is wonderful news to hear.
Get ready for the Oscars tonight by watching Oscar-winning animated shorts from past years. A handy list of all the Oscar-winning shorts on YouTube can be found on this blog. Many of the years are obviously missing but it’s still a lot more shorts than I expected to be online.
If you’ve ever wondered why Disney story artist Bill Peet is often referred to as a master draftsman, look no further than these never-before-published drawings by Peet for a planned storybook about Susie the Blue Coupe. They’re posted in two parts on Michael Sporn’s blog: Part I and Part II.
The story was turned into a Disney theatrical short in 1952. It can be viewed on YouTube. An interesting note about the film: Hans Perk, a reliable Disney authority, says in the comments of Sporn’s post that Susie the Blue Coupe is one of a handful of Disney shorts that has lapsed into the public domain. So remix away folks!
The new blog Market Saw keeps readers updated about the latest 3D craze sweeping the feature animation biz (and movie industry as a whole). The site also has a list of upcoming 3D features including major studio films like Bolt, Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens, Frankenweenie and Ice Age 3, as well as some animated features I hadn’t heard of such as Gaumont’s Boat and New Line’s Planet 51. This Wall Street Journal piece gives more background on the growth of 3D movies, and this page offers the perspective of Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is one of the technology’s biggest proponents and has announced that all of DreamWorks’s animated features from 2009 onward will be produced in 3D.
The new Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George”, which has been brought over from London, is notable in that it’s directed by former animator Sam Buntrock, who has incorporated video-projected digital animation into the play. Brew friend C. Edwards, who saw the play recently, says, “The original production in 1983 is good, but the video effects improve on the whole show, especially the second act. It’s the first time I’ve seen video projection used in a Broadway stage production that didn’t look cheap (like in the Johnny Cash musical, “Ring of Fire”). And it was nice to see someone integrate animation in with live performers in a stage musical.” A piece in last weekend’s New York Times offers comments from Buntrock and Sondheim about the production.
Cultural critic Terry Teachout wrote a thought-provoking piece in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal about how artists with extraordinary promise like Leonard Bernstein, Orson Welles and Ralph Ellison failed to live up to their potential because of the dreaded “importantitis.” Who in the animation world has suffered from the same ailment? The most notable example who comes to mind would be Richard Williams. Teachout contrasts these artists with choreographer George Balanchine:
Contrast Ellison’s creative paralysis with the lifelong fecundity of the great choreographer George Balanchine, who went about his business efficiently and unpretentiously, turning out a ballet or two every season. Most were brilliant, a few were duds, but no matter what the one he’d just finished was like, and no matter what the critics thought of it, he moved on to the next one with the utmost dispatch, never looking back. “In making ballets, you cannot sit and wait for the Muse,” he said. “Union time hardly allows it, anyhow. You must be able to be inventive at any time.” That was the way Balanchine saw himself: as an artistic craftsman whose job was to make ballets. Yet the 20th century never saw a more important artist, or one less prone to importantitis.
In the animation world, the likely parallel to Balanchine would be directors like Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones, who produced animated shorts year in and year out, practicing their craft consistently and rarely ever looking back, and ultimately ending up with some of the most beloved classics in the history of the art form.
Two fascinating interviews have turned up online which are a must-read for any fan of classic animation: Michael Barrier has posted a 1977 interview with Disney concept artist Jim Bodrero (conducted by Milton Gray) and Thad Komorowski has posted a late-1970s interview with animator Emery Hawkins (conducted by John Canemaker). While the Bodrero interview is more informational, the Hawkins interview really delves into his working style and offers a sense of why he was one of the most distinctive animators of Golden Age animation. The interview is accompanied by a clip reel of Hawkins’s work, put together by Komorowski. The image at the top of this post is a scene of Hawkins animation from the John Sutherland film Rhapsody of Steel.
Chris Robinson tells me that he’s currently looking for writers and articles to be published in ASIFA Magazine (previously called Cartoons). The magazine has published numerous fine pieces over the past few years, including John Canemaker’s excellent two-parter about the life and art of JP Miller. The downside is that the magazine isn’t available for sale to the public, and is received only by ASIFA members.
Robinson says he’s looking for articles about all aspects of animation (business, indies, cartoons, anime, academic, interviews, etc.). The magazine comes out twice a year (summer and winter) and writers are paid for their contributions. Anybody interested can send a pitch to Chris Robinson at chris [at] animationfestival [dot] ca.