Everybody has been jumping on the Flash bandwagon these past few years, but could 2008 be the year that animators begin abandoning the infamously buggy software for a more stable and artist-friendly program? Lili Chin and Eddie Mort, the creators of one of the earliest Flash-animated TV series Ã‚Â¡Mucha Lucha!, have announced on their blog that they’re through with Flash. The creative duo is currently wrapping up a feature in Flash called Los Campeones de La Lucha Libre, but they say that beginning with their next project, a short for Cartoon Network Asia, they’ll be switching to Toon Boom’s Harmony. The statement on their blog reads:
“Goodbye Macromedia Flash. After 8 years we are truly over you. Those buggy filters you tantalisingly tempted us with in Flash 8 were the last straw. And you got an ANNIE AWARD for your inadequate software? We’re looking forward to working in some new kind of HARMONY for Rocquita.”
Is this an isolated incident or has the exodus begun?
Last year saw the release of lots of rare animation (Popeye, Lantz cartoons, Oswald, etc.) but perhaps none so rare as a dvd that came out last winter: “Lost Classics from Zagreb Film”, a collection of many of the studio’s most experimental and distinctive early shorts, almost none of which have ever been released before. (Full disclosure: I was an unpaid consultant on the set and the dvd follows very closely the lineup of films that I’d suggested.)
There are no words to describe how happy I become when I watch these films. The Zagreb filmmakers were willing to try just about anything, and their films are packed with tons of inventive visual ideas. Sometimes the risks they took paid off handsomely, sometimes they flopped. One can’t help but admire their fearlessness though. They managed to create these films with limited resources, limited budgets and next to no animation training. The animators were self-taught and as a result their timing and the way things move can be utterly bizzare. Concepts like squash-and-stretch were foreign to a lot of these artist so they figured out graphic solutions of their own and came up with some wildly eccentric styles of movement in the process. Thematically, the films tackle a broad range of subject matter from alienation to militarization, topics that were hardly common fare in animated shorts of the time.
There is a downside to the dvd: The prints, which come directly from Zagreb Films, are unrestored and in fairly poor shape. This is doubly a shame because color and design are such an integral part of these films. Nevertheless, these films have never been available on any home video format, and not having any major studio support behind them, don’t hold your breath for a restored edition of these films anytime soon. This dvd is the only way you’re going to be able to see the following films:
Opening Night (1957) Alone (1958) The Great Jewel Robbery (1959) The Inspector Returns Home (1959) At the Photographers (1959) La Peau de Chagrin (1960) A Man and his Shadow (1960) The Boy and the Ball (1960) Perpetuum & Mobile, Ltd. (1961) Boomerang (1962) Typhus (1963)
The distributor, Rembrandt Films, also recently released DuÃ…Â¡an VukotiÃ„â€¡ on DVD, a collection of the works of Zagreb’s most famous director. Owning this and the “Lost Classics” dvd will give anybody a solid collection of the studio’s early work. The films on the VukotiÃ„â€¡ dvd are:
Playful Robot (1956) Cowboy Jimmy (1957) Concerto for a Machine Gun (1958) Revenger (1958) The Great Fear (1958) Piccolo (1959) My Tail is My Ticket (1959) The Game (1963) A Stain on His Conscience (1968) Ars Gratia Artis (1969)
UPDATE: Thanks to all who entered. The contest is now over. The correct answer was DuÃ…Â¡an VukotiÃ„â€¡’s 1961 short Surogat (also known as Ersatz and The Substitute). The two winners are Scotty Arsenault and Gail Veillette.
And here are a few frame grabs from the animated shorts on the “Lost Classics from Zagreb Film” set:
Minotauromaquia is an intriguing stop motion short I saw a few years back in Annecy. It’s directed by Spaniard Juan Pablo Etcheverry. The short will appeal most to those who are familiar with Picasso’s work, though the message should be clear to all. Jeff Hasulo’s blog Hydrocephalic Bunny also offers some nice thoughts about the film.
According to the website of Koji Yamamura, he has completed a new short entitled A Child’s Metaphysics. The film, which premiered last October, is just beginning to hit the festival circuit. The synopsis of the film is intriguing if slightly confusing:
A child whose head is numerals, a child who winds his own face and has it under his arm. What was left is his identity, a child whose eyes are provided by fishes, a child who lies down on the floor and head-butts his identity, a child who cannot say anything because of a zipper across his mouth. He undo the zipper but under it is another zipper…
Ecology and philosophy of children with sadness and humour.
Yamamura has emerged as perhaps the finest independent Japanese animation director of his generation. Though he’s been creating animated films since the late-’80s, he didn’t begin attracting worldwide attention until 2002 when his short Atama yama (Mt. Head) became a huge hit on the festival circuit and garnered an Oscar nomination. Since then, he’s turned out a couple of other winnersÃ¢â‚¬”The Old Crocodile (2005) and last year’s Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor, which I’ve heard is nothing short of incredible. You can familiarize yourself with a couple of his best known works below.
The Oregonian has a short but interesting article about what animation artists in Brad Bird’s home state, Oregon, think about the Oscar race between Ratatouille and Persepolis. The piece offers quotes from animators Joan Gratz and Will Vinton, who believe Ratatouille deserves to win, while Joanna Priestley and LAIKA recruiter Tom Knott are in the Persepolis. camp. I agree with Tom Knott who says that recognizing the accomplishment of Persepolis will have long-term benefits for the industry as a whole, and will hopefully encourage animated films with more substance and personal styles of storytelling. Knott says in the article:
“‘Ratatouille’ has some of the best animation to appear in decades, and Brad did a great job telling a story. He’s a friend of mine. But personally, I’d like to see ‘Persepolis’ win just because it’s an independent film, and it’s lower-budget. I think it gives hope to other filmmakers trying to do things on lower budgets that are more personal. So if something like ‘Persepolis’ can find an audience, that’s good.”
Do artists improve with the passage of time or do an artist’s skills begin to deteriorate at a certain age? Animation director Will Finn explores this fascinating topic on his blog, using as an example the late work of Chuck Jones. It’s a thought-provoking read that argues that Chuck was actually a better artist when he created artwork intended for the animation process instead of static pieces of fine art.
Animation Magazine reports that background painter Brice Mack passed away on January 2 at the age of 90. His backgrounds appeared in Disney films such as Fantasia, Song of the South, Melody Time, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Lady and the Tramp. In 1954, Mack started a commercial studio with Milt Schaffer called Era Productions. I’ve seen only a few stills from the studio’s output though I wish some reels of the studio’s work would turn up. A lot of Mack’s friends from Disney, including Virgil Partch, Ward Kimball and Tom Oreb, moonlighted on the studio’s commercials.
The Animation Magazine article offers plenty of other details about Mack’s career including this fascinating tidbit:
Along with cartoonist pals Dick Shaw and Virgil Partch, Mack threw notorious parties, once aboard a train car loaded onto a barge in route to Catalina Island. Another time, they put wheels on a character boat and drove it Las Vegas, where a crane lowered it into the pool at the Sands hotel. In 1961, they partied on the last Red Car ride from Los Angeles to Long Beach while animator Ward Kimball played with his Dixieland jazz band, The Firehouse Five Plus Two.
Mack is survived by his wife Ginni, three sons (Kevin, Brice and Greg) and grandsons Jon, Ray and Danny.
Nothing hits the spot after a hard’s day work like seeing a few good Preston Blair swipes. Reader John Luciano writes, “I never get tired of seeing Preston Blair swipes! I’ve been meaning to take a picture of a pet rescue sticker that’s been on my apartment door since I moved in.”
And just to show that stealing from Preston Blair is not an activity limited to Americans, Danny Wall sends us a gem from JapanÃ¢â‚¬”a cardboard popcorn container full of PB swipes. Danny writes, “Although why use that little donkey? Personally, I never liked that character, although I am guilty for using that lion for my senior class’s high school mascot.”
Do you hate the pedestrian state of storytelling in today’s animated features? Probably not as much as Paul Dini does. Dini, best known for writing on the animated Batman and Superman TV show, has posted a long essay on his blog tearing apart the contrivances of contemporary animated features. An excerpt from Dini’s rant:
“Your primary objective as a modern animation feature storyteller is to get the audience members emotionally charged (i.e., distracted from logic gaps and not thinking too much) so they will be ready for your big finale. This usually consists of the hero defeating the villain (almost always by some initial violent action of the villain that the hero has “cleverly” used to boomerang back on the bad guy; real heroes never being allowed to slay dragons on their own these days) and the villain falling to their death from a great height, the only acceptable way for a baddie to meet their end in a cartoon (Gaston, Frollo, the bear in “The Fox & The Hound,” Scar, the poacher in “Rescuers II”, anyone notice a trend here?). If the villain can trip over the edge while trying to get in one last cowardly stab at the hero, so much the better. The demise of the bad guy puts everyone in a good mood, so the sidekicks fire up the juke box, or strike up the band, or simply break into song, and while the hero and heroine share a modest kiss, everyone rocks out over the end credits.”
The nominees for the 80th annual Academy Awards were announced this morning:
Best Animated Feature
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Surf’s Up (Ash Brannon and Chris Buck)
Note: The Surf’s Up nomination surprised even Sony. Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital, told Animation Magazine this morning, “We really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t run any campaign here whatsoever.” Considering that both Persepolis and Surf’s Up are released by Sony, it’ll be interesting to see whether they choose to promote one film over the other in the run-up to the Oscars.
Best Animated Short Film
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ I Met The Walrus (Josh Raskin) Link
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Madame Tutli-Putli (NFB, Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski) Link
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ (Meme Les Pigeons Vont Au Paradis)Even Pigeons Go To Heaven (Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse) Link
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ My Love (Moya Lyubov) (Alexander Petrov) Trailer
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Peter And The Wolf (Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman) Link
Note: This is the first time since 1999 that US filmmakers have been shut out of the animated short category. This year’s nominees are by Canadian, British, French and Russian filmmakers.
Ratatouille also received nominations for Best Original Screenplay (Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird), Best Original Score (Michael Giacchino), Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom and Michael Silvers) and Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane).
If you are anywhere–and I mean anywhere–in the DC area on February 15 and 16, then mark your calendars for the American premiere of Genius Party and the world premiere of Genius Party Beyond. These two new Japanese features are from Studio 4°C, the same production studio that has given us Mind Game and Tekkon Kinkreet. Each 90-minute film is a compilation of seven shorts, some from well-established directors, some from the young and up-and-coming.
The Washington DC screening, which is a part of the Japan! Culture + Hyper-Culture festival, will also include in-person appearances by three of the fourteen Genius Party directors: Shinichiro Watanabe, Koji Morimoto, and Mahiro Maeda.
To truly grasp the uniqueness of this undertaking, listen to Studio 4°C CEO Eiko Tanaka describe the idea for these features in this FPS magazine interview:
“Studio 4°C was born from the desires of the creators who longed to create what they really wanted to make. Creators and people generally cannot keep living without expressing themselves. [Genius Party] has to have this kind of energy with strong longing for self-expression. This was the only requirement and also the theme. It was of course clear to us that it is much easier to sell the product if all the short films have the same tone from a given particular theme. But we chose not to make the same theme or set particular conditions to the films. Instead, we decided to have the diversity of these films be the sales point.”
Which major feature production studio in the US would take the risk of producing not one, but two 90-minute compilations of anything-goes animated shorts? Which studio would be inspired enough to hand the reins to fourteen different directors and allow each to bring to the screen the stories they really want to tell, and then find a workable business model to distribute these films to the general public?
There are many promising shorts in the Genius Party packages including new works by Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game) and Koji Morimoto. This trailer for the first Genius Party offers a taste of what’s in store.
In the FPS interview noted above, Tanaka lays out one of the primary reasons why her studio, which she cofounded in 1986 with Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato, is such a consistent producer of excellent and challenging works of animated art:
“Another reason for Studio 4Ã‚Â°C being successful might be that we are not a profit-seeking company. We have not tried to grow bigger, or to pursue profit, or to float the company on the stock market. We keep the number of our management and controller staff to a minimum to save the budget for the production of the film. Our policy has been that the film is made by the creators, but not by the capital. In spite of our intention, the studio has expanded, had more employees, and the number of film productions has increased. Naturally there are issues with managing larger production budgets. But we are confident in cost controlling and the artists are also fully aware of the deadlines and the limitations of the budget. I believe that we have reached where we are now because we have been producing the best possible pieces within a budget.”
One of the Genius Party shorts that I’m most looking forward to is Wanwa, the Puppy directed by Shinya Ohira. MangaAnimation.net recently offered scans of a magazine article featuring artwork from the short. The images in this article are a tantalizing mix of stylistic experimentation and individualistic character animation; its free-spiritedness reminds of the very best of the works by John and Faith Hubley, a comparison that can’t be made often nowadays. As anime critic Ben Ettinger writes, “it’s truly stunning stuff that has little to do with anime and everything to do with great animated art.” Ettinger’s blog AniPages Daily offers some explanation of the short’s technique and his thoughts about the short’s potential:
“Ohira is creating the backgrounds himself in addition to doing all the animation. He’s not only drawing but also gluing origami paper and string and other assorted materials directly onto the paper to create a very rich and beautiful texture. Sections of animation are even being animated using crayons. The crayoned keys will be inbetweened in a conventional manner, however, and not with crayons. The film will be made using many of the same materials that might be littered around the house of some pint-sized Picasso, in other words, extending the thematic underpinning to the materials used to make the film. I can only say that each of the individual images he has created are of stunning beauty and seem like they would function just as well framed on a wall as photographed in sequence.
Last August Jerry wrote about one of the newest animation fads sweeping through Japan: a crude, borderline inept, series of animated pieces about the Bottom-Biting Bug. This article in Pingmag reveals that the creators are the husband-and-wife team UrumaDelvi. They are also responsible for the animated short A Long Day of Mr. Calpaccio, an entertaining little film that made the festival rounds a couple years back. In the Pingmag piece, the husband half of the team, Uruma, discusses the genesis of the Bottom-Biting Bug and speculates about why it has caught on with the Japanese public. A short clip of the animation is below, but if you really want to torture yourself, try watching this ten-minute spectacle.
Suzie Templeton’s contemporary stop motion retelling of Peter and the Wolf can be seen below in three parts. As we reported last week, the film is on the shortlist for possible nominees in this year’s Oscar race. Last year the film was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Short Animation Film and also won both the Annecy Cristal and Audience Award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
While Disney artists bring their imaginations to life through animation, Disney executives are living a lifestyle that animators can’t even begin to imagine. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Disney chief executive Bob Iger received a 7% pay increase in 2007 for a total financial compensation of $27.7 million. According to the company’s proxy statement, the breakdown is as follows: $2 million salary, which remained the same as 2006; a $13.7 million bonus, which was a decrease from his $15 million bonus in ’06; stock awards totaling $7.9 million, and $740,000 for personal air travel, security and a car benefit. Other Disney execs who earned healthy sums were CFO Thomas Staggs ($9 million), General Counsel Alan Braverman ($7.9 million), executive vp of human resources Wesley Coleman ($2.7 million) and executive vp for corporate strategy Kevin Mayer ($2.6 million). With figures like these, there’s only four words these guys can be thinking right now: High School Musical 3. (PS: If you’re curious about what the average animation artist makes, download this PDF of the 2007 wage survey by the Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE.)
If I had a Sony PSP (or played video games for that matter), I’d be looking forward to the February release of Patapon, a visually striking rhythm-based fighting game. The game’s graphics are based on the work of French artist and toy designer Rolito, who also has a blog here. Here’s a few links that tell you all you need to know about this title:
There are certain details of animation history that have always bothered me. For example, how did Tex Avery, arguably the greatest animation director of all-time, end his illustrious career? The answer is that he created a character called Kwicky Koala, who appeared in a 1981 Hanna-Barbera TV series of the crudest variety. Recently a bunch of Kwicky Koala shorts have found their way online and as expected, they are dreadful, though perhaps no more so than any other piece of Hanna-Barbera flotsam pulled from their vast sea of mediocrity. What makes these particular cartoons so painful to watch is the knowledge of who was making them. In what other art form could the creator of genius such as this,this, and this also have his name attached as the creator of these? Only in animation.
What’s troublesome is how the animation world has never bothered to make a distinction between its true auteurs and its workaday hacks, forcing each and every one to work on product of the most degrading sort. In live-action, by contrast, a Robert Altman or Eric Rohmer or Woody Allen can continue expressing themselves artistically right until the very end because there are enough people on the business end who recognize the value (financial though it may be) of supporting these artists.
While I was researching the life of writer and board artist John Dunn, I was granted access to his diaries and gained a good understanding of his feelings about working on the cheap animation of the Seventies and Eighties. Dunn, in fact, worked briefly with Avery at Hanna-Barbera on the “Dino and the Cavemouse” shorts, and he notes in his diary having conversations with Avery about the pitiful state of their industry. The studio veterans of that era certainly weren’t naive; they were aware of the hopelessly Sisyphean task of creating anything of quality or value. And yet artists like Avery and Dunn continued working up until the very end because they loved the art form so dearly. Avery, who passed away while working on Kwicky, was well past the age of retirement at the timeÃ¢â‚¬”72-years-old.
It makes one wonder: If the animation world can so casually discard one of its most distinguished practitioners and relegate him to working in the trash heap of television, what hope is there for everybody else? It’s a blight on the collective art form and industry that it has never been able to provide decent creative outlets to its artists who truly deserve them. It happened then, and I see it happening with alarming frequency today. Granted, an artist always has the option of charting their own course as an independent, but the fact of the matter is that an industry which consistently fails to recognize the value of the people working within it is an unhealthy industry that cannot be expected to advance or prosper.
There is nothing more depressing than watching the credits of oldschool Hanna-Barbera, DePatie-Freleng and Filmation shows and seeing the names of Golden Age artists scroll by, one after the other, a rollcall of beat down artists who had no option but to submit to the thankless art they had chosen as their life’s calling. Is it any wonder that so many of them, Dunn and Avery included, drowned their sorrows in drink? (Occasionally, a sympathetic younger artist like Richard Williams would throw them a lifeline, such as when he recruited animators like Ken Harris, Grim Natwick and Art Babbitt to work on his feature The Thief and the Cobbler, and boy, did they shine when given the chance, but such opportunities were few and far between.)
So has animation learned from its past? Is our industry diverse enough today to support and utilize the wide range of talents working within it? Twenty years from now, will we be looking at the credits of Bee Movie, Open Season, and Chicken Little with a similarly sad lament? And more importantly, does anybody even know who Tex Avery is in 2008? Questions worth considering as we move forward.
Serving as an appropriate complement to this earlier piece on Cartoon Brew, animation legend Gene Deitch has written a piece for Animation World Magazine entitled “Yes, But is It Animation?” in which he uses Beowulf as a jumping point for his thoughts on motion and performance capture. Deitch’s primary complaint is that while the type of work on display in Beowulf is technically qualifiable as animation, it is not a creative use of the medium. “We animators can animate absolutely anything we can imagine,” he writes. “We are graphic artists, and graphic art can be wildly anything.” Beowulf is not even mildly anything as far as animation art goes.
In the end, Deitch concedes that the whole debate about what is and what isn’t animation may be little more than a trivial technicality because a film’s worth is not rooted in its technique: “We may simply have to give up trying to categorize films by their technical process of production, which will surely be more and more a mixed bag of tricks, and simply judge them as films. Do they tell a story worth telling, and do they tell it well? ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really what movies are all about, isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it?”
Folks in and around the Bay Area should make a point to check out the “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” exhibition which continues at the Cartoon Art Museum in downtown San Francisco through March 18, 2008. DreamWorks story artist Jenny Lerew recently visited the show and offered some perceptive observations about Blair’s work on her blog, including the notion that we shouldn’t allow today’s plethora of second- and third-rate Blair imitators affect our judgement about the quality of her original work. Jenny writes:
“There’s always a lot of talk about the obvious influence of Mary Blair on artists today–so much so, in fact, that it’s led in some circles to a bit of a backlash towards her or towards the stylings of artists who’ve been inspired by her. But when you see these up close and without the filters of photography(either the still camera’s or the animation stand’s)or the limitations of the published page, even now they leap out at the viewer and are as new and fresh as they must have been half a century ago. To see her technique up close is to appreciate how incredibly skilled she was. Intuitive, surely; imaginative and whimsical, yes–but also plain, keen, brilliant, diamond-hard thinking going on. It’s still a big wow.“
Nina Paley’s offbeat indie animated feature Sita Sings The Blues recently was accepted into the prestigious 58th annual Berlin International Film Festival, where it’ll be having its world premiere next month. But as Paley writes on her website, “The bad news is, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s programmed in a theater that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do Digital Cinema. That means unless I have a 35mm print by February, her one and only World Premiere will be on, wellÃ¢â‚¬Â¦video. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let that happen.”
I’ve heard positive words from numerous people who have seen work-in-progress versions of Sita. The film, which Paley started production on in 2004, is uniquely personal, tackling the story of breaking up with her husband in India, combined with an unlikely mashup of Indian mythology and 1920s American jazz. Paley made the film entirely on her own, without a producer or studio backing, and still needs $20k to create a 35mm master. She is accepting tax-deductible donations through this website. It’s a worthy cause for animation fans who have a few extra bucks to spare.
UPDATE: Nina Paley wrote in one of the comments on her blog that everybody who donates will receive a credit in the finished film. But she says that credits will be closed Monday, “since thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the latest I can render everything out from my computer.” So head over and donate now.
The Chicago Spire, a building designed by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, is poised to become North America’s tallest free-standing structure and the world’s tallest all-residential building when it is completed in 2011. When the developers officially unveiled the project last September, their presentation included a slick five-minute animated promo. Pushing far beyond typical animated architectural renderings, the developers enlisted vfx houses Lightstream Pictures and Sony Imageworks to create a feature film-style piece complete with dramatic staging and lighting. A portion of the film can be seen on the building’s website, TheChicagoSpire.com, and a video about the building with a few more animation clips can be seen on YouTube. It just goes to show that there’s no product or idea that can’t benefit from some well conceived animation.
Earlier this month, I linked to illustrator Steve Brodner’s podcast series “The Naked Campaign” which offers his views on various Presidential candidates. This got me to thinking about whether there are other people who are creating animated pieces in hopes of influencing the outcome of this year’s Presidential elections.
A bit of searching on YouTube uncovered a number of independently produced animated pieces, though none of them appear to be making a huge splash at the moment. But it’s only January and with ten months still to go, I expect we’ll be seeing an unprecedented use of animation during the 2008 elections. The most viewed animated piece supporting an individual candidate that I found on YouTube is the following Ron Paul Brickfilm short, which has garnered over 60k views since debuting ten days ago.
Andrew Arnold has created an impressive CG political animated series called Heada’State which features strong condemnations of candidates Rudy Giuliani and Thompson (below).
Ray Noland (director) and Rebecca Berdel (animator) have posted a piece called Revolt in support of Barack Obama.
Democratic longshot Mike Gravel is promoted in this puppet and stop-motion piece titled The Word: Mike Gravel.
And this live-action spot by candidate Mike Huckabee has inspired two different animated parodies, both of which are posted below:
If you know of other pieces, please post links to them in the comments. This is not an attempt to catalog animated pieces that express a political viewpoint because there are plenty of those. Rather I’m curious to find out how animation is specifically being used to effect this year’s Presidential elections through pieces that are either for or against individual candidates.
(PS: A friendly reminder to keep any discussion in the comments focused on the use of animation in the campaign, and not to express any personal political views.)
A few random notes on the French animated feature Persepolis:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Upon winning the best animated feature prize from the NY Film Critics Circle, Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi said, “In France, they always call the New York critics tough bastards. So thank you, my bastard friends.” Animation director Michael Sporn responded on his blog, “ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be nice to hear what she might say if she wins an Oscar. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get my vote.”
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced yesterday the nine films which are advancing to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category. Persepolis, which was France’s entry, was snubbed and didn’t even make the shortlist. I’ve been opposed to the Oscar’s Animated Feature Film category from the very beginning for the simple reason that it continues to ghettoize the art form. Academy voters don’t feel compelled to recognize the merits of animation as film when they know that a special category exists solely for animated features. As the art form continues to mature with films like Persepolis, the flaws of the Animated Feature Film category will only become more and more evident.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Whoever said animation isn’t a powerful medium and can’t be used to instigate positive change in society? Chicago’s Daily Herald has an interesting article titled “Local Iranians hope Persepolis will open eyes about their homeland.” Says one Iranian interviewed in the piece, “I think Americans are generally very open-minded, but there isn’t a lot on the news about the people of Iran, just its government. Persepolis shows how important it is to see that a country’s government and its people can be different.”
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The box office numbers for Persepolis are deceivingly tiny. While the film placed 28th on the charts last weekend with $187,000, it is performing remarkably well considering that it is only playing in 18 theaters. In fact, it had the second-highest per-theater average of any film playing last week, behind only Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. If there’s any question why the animated art form is viewed so poorly by the general public, it’s because a film like The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything can open in 1300-plus theaters while an animated feature like Persepolis remains virtually inaccessible to the general moviegoing public. One can only assume that distributor Sony Pictures Classics will move Persepolis from its current platform release into a wider release once the Oscar noms are announced next week.
As readers of this site may recall, I didn’t offer many kind words for the contest when I posted about it last month. It’s nice that they have a contest winner and I hope the “development deal” works out for the creator, but I still strongly believe that contests with gimmicky prizes like development deals and cash prizes are a cheap and insulting way to encourage new talent in this field.
If companies like DailyMotion and Animation Magazine were serious about helping young creators, they would offer legit production resources to artists, and create opportunities for artists to experiment and develop their artistic voices over a period of time. A fine example to be applauded is the National Film Board of Canada’s Hothouse which is structured in a way that genuinely encourages talent and allows artists the chance to learn about the art form in a professional studio setting.
UPDATE: Regarding the earlier accusation of the ‘plagiarism’ in this short, that is incorrect because the cartoon was produced by the same NYC commercial studio Panoptic that produced the MTV2 commercial. I apologize to the filmmakers for the unnecessary hassle, and I apologize to readers for not fact-checking properly (at least it’s not as bad as the gaffe I made a couple years ago). Below are frame grabs comparing the original Panoptic MTV2 commercial (left) and the Panoptic-produced contest winner (right) which reappropriates the character and animation from their commercial.
“Sorrow of the Soldier” is a one-off animated music video released on the Internet today. The video, which protests the US occupation of Iraq, is a collaboration between a global roster of hip-hop artists from the US, UK, Japan and Europe. The animation by UK artist James Harvey achieves a striking look through mixing an illustrative style with bold graphic symbols, all in black-and-white with well-employed spots of color. The video’s website features multiple remix versionsÃ¢â‚¬”streaming on YouTube and available for hi-res download. Here’s more about the project from its press release:
The track, Ã¢â‚¬ËœSorrow of the SoldierÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ by US Rapper Mark Prysler, tells the story of Lucas, a working-class man who runs out of options in his own life and sees the army as an attractive means of escape. Upon deployment he finds the reality of the Iraq war is far removed from the fantasy sold to him by the Bush administration. The story is an analog for the experiences of many young men and women fighting in Iraq today and the lyrics call for direct action from the government.
Uniquely, the video has been simultaneously released in several different versions, each with a separate audio track by a different global collaborator. Each remix artist was asked to choose a Ã¢â‚¬ËœflavourÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to represent themselves on the website. The standout Ã¢â‚¬ËœmintÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ version features production from HollandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s DJ Donor, who has remixed artists such as Pharrell Williams, while Ã¢â‚¬ËœCheeseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ flavour is remixed by Takashi Otagiri, the president of Tokyo Fun Party, a Japan-based dance music collective. More remixes are to be added to the website over the coming month from hip-hop artists from France, Germany, and both east and west coast America.
Please meet one of the most refreshingly original and funny animated series I’ve run across in a while: Usavich produced by Kanaban Graphics in Japan. The CG animation is funny beyond words, the gags are jam-packed and fresh, and the design is a stunningly distinctive picture-book illustration style. The show’s website Usavich.tv offers 14 of the 26 episodes produced to date, every one of them under two minutes. The entire production is so fun-spirited and well-done, what more can one ask for; I’ve watched all of the available episodes in the past day and still want to see more!
Description is useless for the series. Let’s just say it’s the slightly surreal adventures of an odd couple pair of Russian rabbit inmates who share a jail cell with a frog and a bird. The first season takes place behind bars, the second season follows them on the run in a stolen car. Every episode is solid, and there is a storyline, so it’s best to watch them in order, but two of the most entertaining entries, in my opinion, are this one and this one.
If anybody knows more details about these shorts, please share. The series looks to have some backing by MTV Japan, but there hasn’t been much discussion online about the show so it’s unclear whether it’s new or has been around for a while. I only found out about it the other day on Motionographer. Animator Peter Richardson also posted some praise for the show on his blog. He writes, “[I]t’s tricky to tell which features are in the painted textures and which are shaders and lighting. Perfectly balanced…it goes to show what’s to be gained from a thoughtful and thorough integration of textures and lighting.”
Twenty-two-year-old animation wunderkind David O’Reilly, who we’ve mentioned frequently on Cartoon Brew (here, here and here), was asked to create an original piece of animation for BoingBoing.tv. The resulting piece is a ‘history of animation’ from Disney through John K, and beyond to CG. In a humorous manner, O’Reilly makes a thoughtful point: that CG animation represents a quantum-leap forward in the development of this art form because it offers the possibility for a clear break from traditional reality-rooted styles of animation. Instead of replicating existing worlds, CG offers the chance to create entirely new worlds, an opportunity that few artists have explored to date.