BCActionPoet.org is a delightful series of eleven bite-sized shorts, each set to a poem by US Poet Laureate Billy Collins and read in an amusingly dry tone by Collins himself. The films were commissioned by The Sundance Channel, in partnership with J. Walter Thompson, and the individual shorts were farmed out to various commerical animators. Some of the standout pieces which I thought were able to graphically complement and build upon, but not parrot, Collins’s evocative words, were “The Last Cigarette” by Will Hyde of Superfad, “Forgetfulness” by Julian Grey of Toronto’s Head Gear Animation, and “No Time” animated by Jeff Scher.
David Nethery shares a rare 1963 magazine article by Twice Upon a Time director John Korty offering tips on how to get started in animation. My favorite tip from Korty: “Don’t be afraid to shoot 20, 40 or 80 frames without movement.”
We’ve extended the pre-order deadline for the new Cartoon Brew book Inside UPA. All orders via Paypal, or postmarked in the mail, by this Tuesday, September 18, can take advantage of the cheaper price of $35 (plus S&H). After that, the price will become $45. All proceeds from this limited edition book will go towards the funding of the UPA documentary project headed up by Tee Bosustow, son of UPA co-founder Stephen Bosustow. For more details, see this earlier post on the Brew and to pre-order your discounted copy visit UPApix.com. With only one thousand copies being published, it won’t be around for long, and it certainly won’t be this cheap again after a couple more days.
New York animator Patrick Smith, who has also created numerous public art installations throughout the years, is making a major entry into the fine art world. His first one-man show, “Configurations,” opens this Tuesday, September 18, at CVZ Contemporary Gallery in SoHo (446 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York, NY, 10013). The opening reception is from 6-10pm. Two of the acrylics from the show can be seen above (larger versions here).
Smith says of these paintings, “Using the figure as a building block, intertwining with other figures, is a powerful method of constructing a broader configuration. The concept of people supporting others to achieve something larger than themselves can have a sublime result, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something that I enjoy illustrating.” To my eyes though, while some of the characters look like they’re cooperating and helping one another, others look like they’re taking advantage of one another to pull ahead. It lends an intriguing complexity to the true intent of these contorted and expressionless figures. Here is a time-lapse video showing the creation of one of these paintings.
Spumco bigshot Jim Smith is auctioning some of his layouts from the original Ren & Stimpy series on eBay. The prices are reasonable and there’s some nice drawings available. Here is the complete listing of art.
Here’s a book that I recently picked up. The unlikely pairing of Schulz and Disney on a book cover was simply too good to pass up. The cover also offers the interesting revelation that when Schulz draws adults, they end up looking like King of the Hill characters. Thankfully it’s not something he did often.
Click on the front and back cover images for larger views.
Animator director Ward Jenkins has posted an interview on his blog with writer and historian Taylor Jessen, the foremost chronicler of the innovative and overlooked animated film Twice Upon a Time (1983). Ward also interviewed the film’s art director Harley Jessup and will be posting that discussion next.
UPDATE:Let’s try this again. I apologize that the post didn’t appear on the Cartoon Modern blog last night. A funky accident deleted the post and forced me to rewrite the whole thing. It’s up now.
This evening I posted a rare bit of previously lost animation history on the Cartoon Modern blog: photographs from the 1955 UPA tribute at MoMA. While I knew about this exhibit, I had never seen any photos from the show or had any idea how the artwork was presented. A couple months ago though, while working on Inside UPA, we discovered this set of photos in a storage box. These pics offer a terrific sense what it might have been like to attend this show in the 1950s.
And if you want a sense of what it was like to actually work at the UPA studio, be sure to pick up a copy of the forthcoming Cartoon Brew book Inside UPA. You can lock in the lower pre-order price if you buy the book by this Saturday, September 15. The print run is only 1000 copies and quite a few are gone already.
Inspired by the book Celluloid Skyline, which examined the depictions of New York in live-action film, the blog Ironic Sans has a delightful on-going series of posts called “Animated Manhattan” which looks at how New York City has been represented in cartoons throughout the years. So far, they’ve documented an eclectic assortment of animated pieces including features like Fritz the Cat and Madagascar, TV series including The Critic and Futurama, and one-off projects such as the Tom & Jerry short Mouse in Manhattan and the opening titles to Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
So you’re a 23-year-old unknown animator and you’d like your work seen by millions of people on national TV. How do you do it? For Detroit-based artist Ben Zurawski, it was as simple as drawing some flipbooks and posting them onto YouTube. A few weeks ago, one of them was shown on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Here’s the segment:
In this day and age of whiz-bang gadgetry and powerful digital software, Zurawski is proof positive that a lo-fi approach to animation can garner success online, and even get your work featured on late-night talkshows. Here is a link to a recent interview with Ben about his artwork in general.
Born in Moscow and currently living in Spain, 22-year-old illustrator/animator Nicolai Troshinsky creates beautiful lyrical mini-films in a variety of techniques including cut-out (El Paraguas), hand-drawn (Good Morning) and stop motion ( Trenes). There’s nothing flashy about Troshinsky’s work, but his talent and thoughtful approach to art are evident throughout the animated pieces.
Above: Bill Littlejohn at Playhouse Pictures in 1962
Whenever I’m depressed about the state of contemporary animation, I think about what inspires and excites me about this art form. One of those things is great animation, the type of abstracted and invented movement (largely non-existent today) that is unique to the medium, and which was practiced by master animators like Rod Scribner, Jim Tyer, Grim Natwick, Bobe Cannon, Emery Hawkins and Bill Littlejohn. Of those animators, only Littlejohn is still alive, and Tom Sito recently did this great interview with the legendary Littlejohn.
I’d often heard the story that during the early-’50s the animation business was so slow that Littlejohn took a job at a car dealership. It’s hard to believe that an animator of his caliber could ever be lacking for work but Littlejohn indeed confirms the story in this interview. Of course, things eventually picked up and from the mid-’50s onwards, he animated for just about every commercial studio in LA including Storyboard, Animation Inc., Playhouse Pictures, Fine Arts Films and many others.
It’s not just blogs that offer valuable animation-related content nowadays. Here are three recent audio podcasts with three super artists. I’ve listened to them and they’re all worth a download:
Toon In!, hosted by Tee Bosustow, has many interviews with animation artists. The one that caught my attention was the interview with Sam Clayberger. Clayberger was a designer and background painter at UPA between 1953-1958, produced the artwork for the Rocky & Bullwinkle pilot (along with Roy Morita), and has had a long career as a fine artist and art teacher. It’s a delight to finally hear him speak about his career since one never hears much about him, and the bonus is that he’s fun to listen to. The photo above is from Clayberger’s days at UPA.
The Spline Doctors, and in particular, animator Andrew Gordon, have come through with another solid interview with a fellow co-worker at Pixar. This time, it’s Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter, who shares much wisdom about story and animation throughout the discussion.
Last but not least, the Sidebar podcast features a lengthy chat with character designer Shane Glines. While the two interviewers are comic fans with a limited knowledge of the animation process, the discussion is lively, and Shane offers good insights into his personal journey and development as an artist.
Today I’m pleased to announce the upcoming publication of the first-ever Cartoon Brew book. Inside UPA is a 64-page volume offering an unprecedented look into the legendary UPA animation studios. Packed with over fifty photos, most of which haven’t been seen in decades, the book offers a rare glimpse into what it was like to work at the mid-century’s greatest design-oriented animation studio.
Like the studio itself, this book is a bit of an experiment. It’s an animation book that treats artists like the stars they are and allows them to be appreciated in a way like never before. Personally I think it’s quite the appropriate companion to my earlier book Cartoon Modern because as that book focused on artwork and animation, this book recognizes the artists who made those groundbreaking films a reality.
Inside UPA captures long forgotten moments from the studio’s history including such images as John Hubley sketching dancer Olga Lunick during the production of Rooty Toot Toot, Aurie Battaglia and Leo Salkin working on the unproduced James Thurber feature The White Deer, architect John Lautner talking to UPA animators about his building plans for the studio, Pete Burness and Mister Magoo voice Jim Backus going through a storyboard, Gene Deitch and Cliff Roberts having an impromptu jam session at a picnic, and a late-night production staff meeting at the Smokehouse Restaurant.
Inside UPA, which measures 7.5″x8.7″, is a softcover with french flaps and b&w interior. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards the production of the UPA documentary that Tee Bosustow is working on so every purchase helps to further advance the documentation of the studio’s output. The book also includes a six-page filmography, which is the most complete UPA filmography to ever appear in print. It includes not only the studio’s theatrical shorts, but also its industrial and training films, TV commercials and shows, and other special projects.
The book is available in a numbered edition of 1000 copies. It’s a limited run and certainly not the type of book that will be available forever. The pre-order price (valid through September 15) is $35 (plus S&H). After that date, the price increases to $45. Fifty of these copies will come with a bookplate signed by UPA veterans who are still alive. These are available at $150.
Dutch animator and illustrator Fons Schiedon has a lot of impressive work on his website FonzTV.nl, and none more so than the educational piece Teen Facts: Hormones, which employs a beautifully-executed split screen concept and features some really fun and appealing animation. The short is currently screening at the Nemo Science Center in Amsterdam. Also it’s worth noting that Schiedon is currently art directing a new children’s TV series, The Incredible Adventures of Kika and Bob which will air this fall on Discovery Kids in the US.
Below is an interview with Schiedon from designFLUX where he talks about his work and influences.
This is a must-read article in the New York Times about the new deal that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have struck with Viacom. The deal, which is reportedly worth $75 million to its creators, includes a three-year extension of the series and the creation of SouthParkStudios.com, an incubator for new projects that, I believe, Parker and Stone will have an ownership stake in.
The most attention-grabbing part of the deal, and very likely a first for the creator of an animated TV series, is that Viacom has agreed to give Parker and Stone a 50-50 split of ad revenues on digital platforms, though not on television. The deal was made possible thanks to the duo’s lawyer, Kevin Morris, who in 1997 had the foresight to demand that the creators would share in any revenue not derived from the episode airings on cable. What was then a seemingly minor contract clause has today “created what may be a new model in the balance of power and money between creative artists and companies like Comedy Central,” as so succinctly put in this op-ed in the Times. The precedent-setting contractual victory of the South Park creators is a cause of celebration for all creators, as the antiquated exploitation-based business models of the entertainment industry crumble in this new digital age and artists slowly but surely begin to receive equitable compensation for their creations.
No doubt you’ve seen this fine performance by Miss Teen South Carolina, but have you seen her follow-up interview on The Today Show where she reveals that she wants to study and become, such as, a visual effects artist. Frankly I think she’d be squandering her talents working in vfx when she so clearly has all the makings of an animation executive.
Adam Yaniv, an animator at Rhythm & Hues by day, recently pointed me to this small personal project he created as an entry in Heinz’s Top This TV Challenge.
What’s notable about this spot is how he used a combination of 3D software and Flash to achieve the hand-drawn look. Cel shaders in CG programs generally bother me because in order to create a hand-drawn look, they attempt to mask the CG, and the end result is neither fish nor fowl. Yaniv, on the other hand, used CG only as a foundation to assist the hand-drawn process. He explained the pipeline to me via email:
“I use 3D as kind of my blue pencil phase, getting the characters down in simple shapes, animating their action in front of the camera and so forth. Then I move into traditional frame-by-frame cleanup, using Flash in this case. The key is that cleanup is done in the same exact way that it would be in 2D, no cut corners. Meaning that I make judgment calls on every frame pertaining to model, volume, line-quality and animation style same as I would in 2D. So I use the best of both worlds, it’s all in the technique.”
Yaniv has plans to use this process in future personal projects. He’s excited about the potential of the process citing its flexibility to make changes right through the end of production, the sped-up timeframe in which hand-drawn animation can be created, and the ability to distribute the workload across a team of animators.
It should be noted that Aardman’s recent multiple-award winning short The Pearce Sisters uses a somewhat similar technique, beginning with CG roots and ending up with a hand-drawn look. Though Yaniv’s technique isn’t groundbreaking, it excites me to see artists experimenting with the digital tools at their disposal and finding ways to make technology work for them. As more and more artists like Yaniv embrace hybrid approaches, we can finally put to rest the tired 2D versus 3D debate and recognize the possibilities that exist when digital and hand-drawn are combined.
This morning, from 9:30 to 10am (PST), tune in to S.W. Conser’s radio program Words & Pictures for an interview with Pixar sound designer Gary Rydstrom. Rydstrom also directed the studio’s most recent short Lifted. Portland-based listeners can listen on KBOO 90.7fm, and folks elsewhere can listen to a real-time webcast at KBOO.fm.
The Word & Pictures audio archives also houses interviews with Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud, animation director Marv Newland (Bambi Meets Godzilla), and this recent chat with Jerry and I, which marks the only time the Brewmasters have done a joint radio interview.
I’ve mentioned it before but the new Cinderella storybook, illustrated with Mary Blair’s conceptual artwork from the Disney feature, is arriving into bookstores this week. There’s also this article in Publisher’s Weekly which talks about how the project came to fruition, and more importantly, offers the news that two more Disney storybooks using Blair’s concept art are scheduled: Alice in Wonderland in ’08 and Peter Pan in ’09.
The NFB has already released one terrifically original stop-motion film this yearÃ¢â‚¬”Madame Tutli-PutliÃ¢â‚¬”and next month they’re rolling out another promising stop-mo piece onto the festival circuit. Paradise by writer/director Jesse Rosensweet debuts in September at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The stop-motion characters in the film are painted metal tin toys and move in a correspondingly staccato toyish manner. The visual style is apparently a metaphor for the film’s subject matter, which is “the story of a man [voiced by Dave Foley] whose actions are controlled by fate, who is forced to follow a predetermined path.” More details and a trailer are available at the NFB website.