Millard Kaufman, the Hollywood screenwriter who was instrumental in the creation of Mister Magoo, passed away last Saturday at age 92. The LA Times provides an informative obituary. He received a story credit on the first Magoo short Ragtime Bear in 1949, and along with John Hubley, is considered to be one of the primary architects of the character. In addition to the Magoo short, he co-wrote the UPA Fox and Crow short Punchy de Leon with Phil Eastman, and if I’m not mistaken, he also wrote a number of military training films (uncredited) for UPA during the 1940s.
Last weekend marked the 5th anniversary of the Cartoon Brew blog. I thought it might be fun to celebrate by looking at who’s reading the blog nowadays, especially since we’ve been experiencing record-breaking site traffic since the beginning of the year. After examining the reports on Google Analytics (something which I’d never bothered to do in-depth before), I learned that the majority of visits to Cartoon Brew come through Internet service providers, which means that we have no idea of the company or educational affiliations of those readers. However, a not-insignificant percentage of readers visit from their jobs or schools and this is the data we’ll be looking at today.
In the period between January 1st and March 15, the top private corporate network that we received visitors from was Pixar, followed closely by DreamWorks, Disney, Viacom (Nickelodeon), Blue Sky, Turner (Cartoon Network), Laika and Electronic Arts. As far as schools go, the biggest traffic came from CalArts folllowed by Savannah College of Art and Design, School of Visual Arts, Ringling and Sheridan. In this two-and-a-half month period, Pixar employees snagged the top spot by logging over 3,700 visits. Averaged out to a daily figure, it amounts to quite a few readers emanating from just one company.
Some other surprises: There are a lot more readers at videogame companies than I knew we had. There are also lots of colleges and universities on the list that don’t have well-known animation programs, but apparently have significant numbers of students who are interested in animation. The amount of traffic we receive from people working at the cable channel Starz Encore is also perplexing. I have no idea why we’re so popular over there.
The list of the top 86 private networks driving traffic to the Brew can be seen after the jump. To keep it manageable, I’ve limited the survey to only companies/schools that have logged 100 or more visits between January and March. (Note: I took the info straight from an Analytics report so I apologize that the network names are uncapitalized.)
A lot of young artists apply to CalArts and get rejected. But what happens if you’re accepted into the prestigious program and can’t afford to attend? That’s the situation that 25-year-old Canadian artist Dan Caylor finds himself in after receiving a letter of acceptance last week.
Dan writes on his website, “Unfortunately, my family isn’t rich, and being from Canada, I’m not eligible for any government loans or funding. With a price tag of $200,000, I’ll need all the help I can get. I’m doing everything I can to make my dream a reality, including asking everyone for anything they can spare. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If enough people can help me, I can turn my bittersweet acceptance letter into the beginning of a dream come true. Every penny counts.”
After looking at his blog, it’s obvious that Dan is not only a talented artist, but that he’s also a passionate student of animation, its history, and understanding the individual elements that comprise successful filmmaking (storytelling, shot selection, staging, movement, design, etc.). His blog is also a nice resource for other artists offering excerpts from Don Graham’s classic book Composing Pictures and high-quality video of Michael Caine discussing his acting techniques.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen a student post a public appeal for funds to attend CalArts. And it would be a shame if he couldn’t attend, especially after reading about all the effort that Dan made to get accepted into the program. So Cartoon Brew is not only going to encourage donations, but on behalf of Jerry and myself, we’re throwing $40 into the pot to get Dan started on the road to Valencia. Find out how to give a few bucks to the cause at OnAnimation.com.
Since Cartoon Modern was published a few years ago, the most frequently asked question I’ve received about the book is, “Where’s the DVD?” While I was working on Cartoon Modern, we considered including a DVD that showed the animated pieces discussed in the book, but practical issues of time and money prevented it from happening. Since then, I’ve spoken to a few people about producing a DVD and while nothing has come of those discussions, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that someday I’ll put together a curated collection of commericals, shorts and industrial films related to that period.
Until that happens, let me point out the next best thing: a “Cartoon Modern” playlist on YouTube created by an awesome user who goes by the name of criticalmetrics1. I have no idea who this person is, but I want to thank them for putting so much effort into creating this playlist. They’ve even gone so far as to organize the films by the contents of my book. There are a hundred items on the list but because of copyright takedowns, only ninety-three are currently available for viewing. Still, that’s enough stylized cartoon animation to keep anybody busy for a while. If you know of other Cartoon Modern-related YouTube links, feel free to add them to the comments below.
Now that Michael Eisner has purchased the ailing Topps baseball card company, he’s finally in charge of a company that has to use all of his ill-conceived ideas. According to the NY Times, his latest stroke of genius is to combine motion capture and 3D technology with baseball cards. The article gives plenty of details about what Eisner is doing with Topps, a company that he views “as a cultural, iconic institution not that different from Disney; it conjures up an emotional response that has a feel good, Proustian kind of uplift.” Eisner is also developing a movie based on the company’s Bazooka Joe bubble gum and has created a seventeen-episode online comedy series Back on Topps that “spoofs his acquisition of the company.”
If you appreciate good design and color work, then you’ll want to add the new hardcover publication The Whimsical Work of David Weidman and Also Some Serious Ones to your bookshelf. While this career retrospective features mostly his silk-screened prints from the Sixties and Seventies, there is also a healthy sampling of Weidman’s animation artwork from studios like UPA, Storyboard and TV Spots (later Creston Studios). Some of his UPA art from 1955 is identified as being from the ’70s and the writing (what little of it there is) didn’t particularly impress, but the star of this show is the artwork and there is loads of nicely presented imagery throughout. To see some of David Weidman’s artwork online, visit WeidmansArt.com.
One of the items on my infinitely long to-do list is to write some thoughts about the exquisite artistry behind Coraline. While the film is flawed, it still ranks as one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in some time watching a mainstream animated feature. It pleases me to no end to see that the film has been a box office success (as far as stop-motion animation goes at least). It currently ranks as the third-highest grossing stop-motion feature of all time, trailing only Chicken Run and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
A large reason for the film’s financial success has been the deep pockets of Laika owner Phil Knight. As much as I’d like to believe that audiences will discover good films if they’re made, the truth is that despite a film’s quality, investing money into its promotion is a necessity lest one ends up with an Iron Giant. I’m not sure that Knight even understood what he was doing when he put his fortune behind this film, but I can’t think of a recent debut film by a major animation studio that has been bolder, riskier and more imaginative. Laika has the opportunity to carve out a niche as a truly unique animation studio, and I sincerely hope they continue following this path that they’ve embarked upon with Coraline.
In today’s Variety, Laika took out a two-page ad thanking the people who made Coraline. The first page was dedicated to the film’s crew, the second page thanked individuals. My digital photo of the ad is a bit funky looking but at least you can see what it looks like. Click on it for a bigger version:
In other Coraline news, a stage musical will open this May at the MCC Theater in Manahttan. This musical has been in the works long before the film came out so it has little to do with cashing in on the success of the movie. Not to mention that it’s opening at a smaller off-Broadway theater that prides itself on taking “risks on plays that the commercial theater often ignores.” The musical version features music and lyrics written by Stephin Merrit (Magnetic Fields) and direction by Leigh Silverman(Yellowface, From Up Here, Well).
After Chuck Menville and Len Janson earned an Oscar-nomination for their automobile-themed pixilation short Stop, Look and Listen (1967), they were commissioned by Gulf Oil to recreate the idea for a series of commercials. Last night I ran across one of the spots on YouTube:
Stop-motion director Jamie Caliri (titles for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) created pop-up book-style opening titles for the Showtime series United States of Tara. The opening can be seen on the website Forget the Film, Watch the Titles and an interview with Caliri is included on the same page. The illustrations in the piece were done by Alex Juhasz, set building was led by Morgan Hay, and animation lead was Anthony Scott.
The latest issue of Fortune has a short article in which Jeffrey Katzenberg offers a few tips on how he keeps his artists happy. There’s also a sidebar that lists perks that DreamWorks employees receive and a quote from animator James Baxter about why he works at the studio. The article isn’t online but if you click on the image above, you can read the entire piece.
Digital effects can be wonderful but they aren’t a substitute for good old-fashioned creativity, as evidenced by the pre-digital era visual delights of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu (House). This 1977 Japanese film mixed live-action with animation and visual effects in ways that are still striking. If the clip above leaves you wanting more, try downloading the entire film on this blog. Prior to making his mainstream film debut, Obayashi was an independent filmmaker. A mid-’60s experimental work he created called Emotion can be seen on this website.
Meet my favorite animation director of the moment: Nate Theis. He works at Madison, Wisconsin-based Planet Propaganda which is a hybrid ad agency/production house. Theis recently posted a selection of work on his new website NateTheis.com and I love pretty much everything he’s done. The commercials feel fresher, sharper and just a little more raw than the majority of advertising I see coming out of mainstream ad agencies. The Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich campaign, which Theis helped to concept and write in addition to animating and directing, is one of the funniest collection of spots I’ve seen in some time, not to mention a perfect Roger Ramjet tribute. The Nonsek clothing and ACR Electronics spots are simple concepts executed to a tee, while the Gary Fisher bike campaign shows range and a willingness to experiment. A graduate of Savannah College of Art & Design, Theis is a director to keep an eye on.
Earlier this decade, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began handing out Oscars for best animated feature, I viewed it as a misguided decision. Increasingly, over the past eight years, I’ve come to see it not only as misguided, but as downright awful, an idea that is at best backwards and out of touch with contemporary times, and at worst, a reactionary measure designed to protect their live-action base of filmmakers from the threat of an emergent art form. Furthermore, the immature manner in which the Academy presents the animation award during their ceremony is completely at odds with what is actually happening within the art form. If I didn’t know better, I’d think their intentions were to pigeonhole animation into its own specialized niche instead of promoting the art form as a valid equivalent to the live-action process.
The Academy’s animated feature award looks increasingly antiquated as more progressive film awards and festivals begin to recognize animation on its merits as film and not as some weird subset removed from the rest of film art. Yesterday, the 29th edition of Fantasporto, a major film festival in Portugal, awarded its top prize for Best Film and Best Screenplay to Bill Plympton’s feature Idiots and Angels. Plympton beat out of dozens of live-action films for both awards. The screenplay award is notable because Idiots and Angels is dialogue-less and Plympton relied purely on visual storytelling to make his film.
Also, this week at the Fargo Film Festival, Don Hertzfeldt’s latest short I Am So Proud of You won not only Best Animation, but also Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The 22-minute short won the Best Picture award over dozens of live-action features, animated films and documentaries. Festival co-chairman Matt Olien told Fargo’s local paper Inforum that their selection of Hertzfeldt’s film falls in line with animation’s emergence “as a major player in movies” and that he felt WALL-E should have received a best picture nomination at the Oscars.
Animation filmmakers are continuing to push creative boundaries as never before and they are being recognized for their progress throughout the film community. It’s unfortunate that at the exact moment animation began coming into its own and regularly equaling live-action in terms of writing and filmmaking quality, the Academy took action to make it more difficult for animation to compete in its major categories. As animation continues its evolution so should the Academy. It should embrace animation as a film art worthy of its major awards and abolish its separate but equal treatment of animated films.
The Onion reports that Barack Obama has been outfitted with motion-capture sensors and that his entire presidency is being recorded in 3-D. While the article is obviously in jest, I wonder how far away we are from the day where all of our lives will be recorded in digital form giving us the option to virtually replay personal events from different perspectives and to create different outcomes.