[original video link of Oscar speech removed by Vimeo]
Last night during the Oscars, the Academy organizers interrupted Life of Pi winner Bill Westenhofer’s speech just as he was about to address the crisis in the visusal effects community. The timing of the cut-off may not have been coincidental, as Variety’s David S. Cohen pointed out on Twitter:
Hollywood’s desire to silence the animation/vfx community is made more poignant by the VFX industry demonstrations that happened earlier on Sunday in Hollywood. Westenhofer supervised the visual effects of Life of Pi at Rhythm & Hues, which has already declared bankruptcy and is among the studios hit hardest by the recent industry turmoil.
“At a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, [the] visual effects companies are struggling. And I wanted to point out that we aren’t technicians. Visual effects is not just a commodity that’s being done by people pushing buttons. We’re artists, and if we don’t find a way to fix the business model, we start to loses the artistry. If anything, Life of Pi shows that we’re artists and not just technicians.”
What is with animation folks being thrown out of the Oscar ceremony? Tonight’s hot gossip is that Paperman producer Kristina Reed was kicked out of the Oscar ceremony after she began throwing paper airplanes off the mezzanine when her short was announced as a winner. The planes had lipstick kisses on them—just like the film. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “After a short protest, security brought her back to her seat about five to 10 minutes later.” Thank God we can all still throw paper airplanes at the Annecy animation festival.
Disney swept the Oscars this year with wins for both animated short and feature. Congrats to John Kahrs and Walt Disney Feature Animation for taking home the Animated Short Oscar for Paperman. Congrats to Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and the Pixar crew for winning the Animated Feature Oscar for Brave.
As expected, the Oscar for Visual Effects was awarded to Life of Pi. Congrats to Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R. Elliott, and the crews of Rhythm & Hues and Moving Picture Company. Unbelievably, as the Life of Pi winners tried to comment on the recent situation in the VFX community, the Academy cut off their speech mid-sentence. Not classy, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Oscar-winner John Kahrs and wife Gennie Rim arriving for the ceremony tonight.
For the record, Paperman is quite an accomplishment for Disney. The last time the studio won the Oscar for Best Animated Short was 1969 and the winner was this guy:
Love him or hate him, Seth MacFarlane is making history tonight as the first (and probably last) animator to ever host an Academy Awards ceremony. Let’s document this unique moment in cartoon history. Does his performance match up to previous Oscar hosts? Better than Billy Crystal? Steve Martin? Carson? Hope? Which of Seth’s routines killed and which fell flat? Did he make references to his animation career in a positive or negative way? Share your thoughts with the animation community as you’re watching the ceremony tonight.
(Note: Any comments not directly related to Seth’s performance will be deleted. Seriously, don’t even try.)
There’s something profoundly delightful about this early-Seventies Burger King ad featuring a mustachioed octopus selling Whoppers. It’s absent the high-concept pretensions of modern advertising filled with cooler-than-thou irony and sarcasm. I’d say it’s as genuine, fun and pleasant as a fast food commercial can be. Now someone please find the color version and post it online.
As an animation supporter, it’s moments like this that makes you shake your head and wonder why you even try. In a single magazine paragraph, People magazine managed to perpetuate two of the most persistent misconceptions about animation—that it is a medium exclusively for kids and that it has to be ‘fun’:
Your kids can get into the spirit of awards season too, with the five animated shorts nominated for Oscars. Maggie Simpson battles a bully in The Longest Daycare (which played with Ice Age 4 last year), while Paperman (the intro to Wreck-It Ralph) features a copule brought together by paper airplanes. The rest of the mini movies are a touch more experimental but no less fun. See them all together now in theaters, or on iTunes or On Demand Feb. 19.
Cartoonist and storyboard artist Sherm Cohen has updated his fantastic How to Draw Cartoons Facebook page with scans of the rare 1939 book Popeye’s How to Draw Cartoons. The book has some solid common sense advice, including this bit which I liked: “Copy other characters you enjoy following in your newspaper. Don’t worry if they don’t look exactly like them. The important thing is—are you remembering to exaggerate your impression of the character you have in mind?” See the entire book HERE.
The most talked-about online animation debut this week was To This Day, which featured the contributions of over 80 animation artists who took turns animating a spoken word poem written and performed by Shane Koyczan. The seven-and-a-half minute short has already racked up nearly 3.5 million views on Youtube, and an additional 134,000 views on Vimeo.
The anti-bullying message of the film is powerful, but the impact originates almost entirely from Koyczan’s passionate narration. The animation—and the overproduced score—serve as attractive garnish, but don’t enhance or elucidate the core emotion of the vocal performance. That’s not to say that the visuals aren’t well made because it’s clear that a lot of effort went into this. Seemingly every current animation and motion graphic style is represented, but the novelty of rapidly shifting visual styles doesn’t feel like the most effective way to support Koyczan’s narration.
The interchangeable feel of the visuals has a lot to do with the way the project was set up by Vancouver-based design studio Giant Ant. They invited dozens of artists to create 20-second pieces over a twenty-day period, and assigned multiple artists to animate the same parts of the film. Afterward, they cut together the bits and pieces that they thought worked best for each scene. As one artist who worked on the project told me:
This is an excellent example of crowdsourcing in the 21st century. Everybody works hard on tiny chunks for no pay, only the best parts of their tiny chunks go in, the rest gets scrapped, and you’ve got a beautiful result for no investment.
What better time to protest Hollywood’s woeful treatment of animation and visual effects artists than on the film industry’s biggest day—Oscar Sunday. Tomorrow afternoon, between 1pm and 4:30pm, there will be a demonstration at Hollywood Blvd and Vine Street demanding more equitable treatment of animation/VFX artists. The event organizers have also rented a plane that will circle the Oscars between 3:30 and 4:30pm carrying a banner urging a VFX union. Over 200375 people have already confirmed their attendance on the event’s Facebook page.
The instigating event of this renewed interest in artists’ rights has been Rhythm & Hues’ bankruptcy, which makes little sense considering that the work R&H produces is among the best in the industry and responsible for a significant portion of Hollywood’s profits:
Life of Pi (Fox) and Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal) together grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide. Rhythm & Hues Studios, the company that brought Richard Parker to life and created the bulk of the visual effects for these two Oscar nominated films, has just declared bankruptcy. Many of the artists who worked nights and weekends to create those effects are out of work and unpaid for weeks of work (including nights and weekends) on new tent-pole films for the same studios, Fox and Universal. It’s time for change!
A round-up of protest coverage can be found on VFX Soldier.
The Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, were handed out on Friday evening. The sole prize for animated film (shorts and features are combined into a single category) was presented to the feature film Ernest and Celestine, directed by Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, and Stéphane Aubier.
Good news for Americans: distributor GKIDS has picked up the film for U.S. distribution and is prepping a fall 2013 release. Every clip I’ve seen from the film makes it appear sweet and charming in the best way possible.
British animation legend Bob Godfrey has passed away. We received a note from his grandson Tom Lowe this morning with the following sad message: “He passed peacefully in his sleep, on Thursday 21st February 2013, aged 91.”
Godfrey once told an interviewer that he considered his life a long-lasting ambition to make people laugh, and he did exactly that during an animation career that lasted over fifty years, spanning dozens of shorts films and TV series. In the process, he became the first British animator to win an animated short Oscar (for the short Great), and he also helped animation mature by exploring contemporary and adult themes in his work.
Born in Horse Shoe Bend, West Maitland, Australia on May 27, 1921, and raised in London, Godfrey attended the Leyton Art School. He began his visual arts career working in advertising. In the late-1940s, he began working at David Hand’s G. B. Animation, and helped create promotional items related to Animaland shorts. This led to his full-time entry into the animation field in 1950 at the modernist commercial studio W. M. Larkins.
While at Biographic, Godfrey began making personal short films. Early efforts like Polygamous Polonius and Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961), with their sharp satiric humor and quirkily designed cut-out animation style, were considered fresh for the time. The BFI Screenonline website says that these films, “display the range of influences and preoccupations that characterise his work—music hall routines, avant-garde comedy in the spirit of The Goons, political satire, and concerns with British attitudes to sex and social conduct.” Historian Giannalberto Bendazzi also notes that in these early films, “Godfrey comes out as one of the few animators to share some common traits with the Free Cinema of his contemporaries Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz.”
Still from “Great” (1975)
Godfrey continued his career as a short filmmaker with a string of successful films including The Rise and Fall of Emily Sprod (1962), Alf, Bill & Fred (1964), Henry 9 ’til 5 (1970), Kama Sutra Rides Again (1972), an erotic-comedic short that Stanley Kubrick personally selected to accompany the UK release of A Clockwork Orange, and culminating with his ambitious Oscar-winning short-epic Great (1975), about the life of British civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
In the mid-1960s, Godfrey set up his own studio, Bob Godfrey Movie Emporium, through which he not only produced shorts and commercials, but also began making a variety of children’s TV series, such as Roobarb (about the rivalry between a dog named Roobarb and a cat named Custard), Noah and Nelly in… SkylArk, and Henry’s Cat, all of which became beloved staples of generations of British children.
Godfrey also created the Do-It-Yourself Animation Show in the mid-1970s, a how-to series with weekly guests who included Richard Williams and Terry Gilliam. The show, which made animation accessible to the masses by taking the mystery out of the production process, was vastly influential and inspired an entire generation of kids in England, including Nick Park, who created Wallace & Gromit, Jan Pinkava, who directed the Pixar short Geri’s Game, and Richard Bazley, an animator on Pocahontas, Hercules, and The Iron Giant.
Enjoy this great BBC mini-doc about Godfrey from the early-1970s:
The Weinstein Company’s Escape from Planet Earth surprised many people by earning a robust $21.1 million over the four-day President’s Day holiday weekend. Its success was all the more surprising because the B-list kiddie pleaser didn’t have a huge marketing presence, wasn’t made by a name-brand studio, and didn’t seem to have wide appeal beyond its target demographic. But it benefited from a quiet period for family films, while managing to surpass the debuts of other CG space pics like the $12.3M opening of Planet 51 (2009) and the $6.9M opening of Mars Needs Moms (2011).
“[It] was focused on first presenting our core audience with a longer form look at the full story via in-theater trailers, advertisements, and long-lead digital placement. The television campaign was bifurcated to raise awareness and interest with parents and kids, through a six week flight that first aimed [to] re-introduce the concept, then highlight the comedy, and of course close with the exceptional voice cast.”
Within the last 6 months, two of the biggest U.S. visual effects houses—Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues—have declared bankruptcy. Among the culprits responsible for their downfall is outsourcing and offshoring of VFX work to countries like India, China and Malaysia. This goes hand in hand with other reasons like foreign government tax subsidies and credits, corporate mismanagement, and Hollywood studio economics.
But what exactly does it mean when work is sent to one of those other countries? Work isn’t sent overseas simply because it’s cheaper. The cold, hard reality is that work goes overseas because developing countries have lax labor laws that offer minimum worker rights and maximum opportunity for worker exploitation. It amounts to sweatshop labor, and in some cases, indentured servitude.
We hear a lot about the perspective of Western artists affected by the outsourcing and offshoring, but nothing from the overseas artists who are the supposed beneficiaries of the work. It turns out, they’re not exactly enjoying it either.
This commentary piece was submitted by Bhaumik Mehta, an artist who spent 7 years working in the rendering and lighting departments of many top Indian animation and effects houses. He has now left the industry to work as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects, a field that he says is much less exploitative. Per Mehta’s request, I have removed the names of the studios he listed in his original piece to protect colleagues who may still be working at those places.
Commentary by Bhaumik Mehta
I read your story of recent layoffs happening at studios like DreamWorks and Rhythm & Hues. I wish to express my deep sorrow and concern for all those artists who have had to put aside their families, friends and health to finish the tasks that were assigned to them by the studios.
Many bad things happen at studios in India, too. At one studio, artists are asked to work without salary for at least four months, at which point the studio can ask them to leave if they didn’t find their performance “good” enough. At another studio, they reduced their staff in the 3D animation department from 150 people to a mere 5 people. One studio takes Rs 30,000 (approximately $550) as a deposit from artists and only returns to the artist (without interest) once they complete two years employment at the studio. [Note: An average MONTHLY salary might be Rs 7,500 ($138 month) so the deposit is equivalent to nearly 4 months salary.]
Every studio has adopted a hire-and-fire policy in which artists are asked to sign a contract of six months after which the studio has a right to either keep the artist or remove them according to the project’s requirement. One studio has laid off their most senior artists and shifted their base from Mumbai to Banglore; another studio will either delay an artist’s salary by two months or won’t pay at all; and yet another studio requires their artists to come to work on Sundays as well as on public holidays. All the while, animation institutes are taking fees like Rs 450,000 (approx. $8,300) but providing education and equipment that isn’t even worth Rs 4,500.
It would be nice to raise this issue and let everyone know the condition that Indian artists have to endure. They are sacrificing their lives for their passion, but they are exploited by people who have no interest in art and whose only motivation is earning as much as possible by spending as little as they can.
I left the industry two years ago. I am glad to have done so and have started working as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects. I am not earning as much as I used to when I was in the studios, but I have no fear of someone asking me to leave their office once their project is completed. I choose to live with dignity and honor as well as giving time to my family, friends and health.
I hope that by making others aware of these issue, I can save my artist friends from further exploitation.
Santa Monica and Dallas-based Reel FX has no plans to slow down. Already producing two features—Jimmy Hayward’s Turkeys and Jorge Gutierrez’s Book of Life—Reel FX announced today that they are developing a third feature based on the Dark Horse comic book series Beasts of Burden. Shane Acker, who directed the animated feature 9 is on board as director.
All I can say at this early stage is that Reel FX’s approach to feature animation is refreshingly eclectic and mature for an American animation studio. They will definitely be one to watch over the next couple years.
More about the Beasts of Burden feature in this official announcement:
(Dallas, Texas and Santa Monica, California) February 20, 2013—Reel FX announced today that Academy Award-nominee Shane Acker (9) will direct the studio’s upcoming untitled CG-animated feature based on the Dark Horse Comics series Beasts of Burden, written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson. The film is being written by Darren Lemke (Turbo, Shrek Forever After). Aron Warner, Reel FX’s President of Animation, is producing the film alongside Mike Richardson from Dark Horse Entertainment and Andrew Adamson from Strange Weather.
Warner notes, “Reel FX is continuing to partner with some of the leading filmmakers in animation. Shane is an immense talent and will bring his fresh vision and approach to this adaptation of Beasts of Burden.”
Says Acker, “It’s a pleasure to be working with such accomplished producers and filmmakers on this incredible project. There is a real independent spirit at Reel FX—the studio is full of energy and fresh ideas—which is necessary to bring this unique story to life.”
The project is an animated adventure about the baffling behavior (tail chasing, barking at “nothing” at all) of our favorite four-legged friends. In the charming town of Burden Hill, there might be more to these animal antics than meets the eye. The town is inhabited by the supernatural, and when its paranormal activity becomes even more abnormal than usual, it’s up to a group of fearless canines called the Watch Dogs to protect its citizens – and humanity – from the mysterious things that go “bump” in the night.