Atlanta animation director Ward Jenkins has posed an excellent question to his blog readers: “What would you consider The Holy Grail of Animation? What cartoon, short film, or feature (or anything else) that you’ve heard about but have never seen — preferably something that is practically impossible to see — that has achieved legendary status throughout the years?” He’s received answers from many fine folk so far including John Canemaker, Tom Sito, Jerry Beck, Tom Knott, Mike Barrier and Clay Croker. Head on over to Ward’s blog and contribute to the list.
In my book CARTOON MODERN, I mention briefly the story of what happened when legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited the Disney Studios in 1939. Wright had brought along a Russian animated film, THE TALE OF CZAR DURANDAI, and screened it for the artists to inspire them to think more modern.
Never did I imagine that a transcript existed of Wright’s discussion with the Disney artists. Historian Didier Ghez has uncovered the transcript and posted the first five pages of it on his Disney Books blog. He says the rest of the transcript will be posted soon. The discussion in this first part takes place primarily between Wright and storyman T. Hee, who would work at UPA for much of the 1950s. Studio composer Leigh Harline is also present and chimes in briefly. Wright’s unwavering dedication to being progressive and modern must have been quite a jolt to the Disney artists; John Hubley said he was greatly inspired by Wright’s visit to the studio and it’s easy to see why after reading this transcript.
It’s a full-time job trying to keep track of all the emerging animation stars of the online world. One of the newest hit-creators is 22-year-old Norwegian Lasse Gjertsen whose videos are racking up millions of hits on YouTube. At the end of this entry, I’ve posted his most successful short, AMATEUR. The film, which uses an offshoot of the pixilation technique, was created in two days and has received over 1.8 millions views in the month that it’s been on YouTube.
Earlier this week, Gjertsen was profiled in the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The article is well worth checking out. It reveals that Gjertsen studied animation in both the UK and Norway. His creativity wasn’t appreciated at either of the schools, so Gjertsen dropped out, began creating his own shorts and posting them onto YouTube.
The WSJ piece also points to this TV commercial for FOSTER’S HOME FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS that blatantly rips off (I’m sorry, pays homage) to another of Gjertsen’s shorts called HYPERACTIVE. Has there ever been a truer sign of the times: Cartoon Network, with its healthy budgets, plentiful resources, and dozens of artists working on each show, has to look to a lone animation artist working from his parents’ basement in Norway for creative inspiration. We all know that the mainstream animation industry has been creatively bankrupt for years; what’s different is that for the first time, there’s a viable alternative to Hollywood. Whether it’s the heartfelt simplicity of Dony Permedi’s KIWI, the satirical edge of JibJab, or the innovative animation techniques of Lasse Gjertsen, audiences are discovering and embracing an exciting new world of animation that previously wasn’t available to them…and this is only the beginning.
UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that the FOSTER’S promo spot, which I mentioned above, was not produced by the crew that produces the TV show. It was created by CN’s On-Air group in Atlanta, without any creative input from the FOSTER’S crew.
Mark Mayerson has posted a terrific analysis on his blog of the different ways that sympathy can be created for animated characters. He uses plenty of examples from Disney films. Mark writes:
Sympathy turns out to be a major factor in whether or not an audience roots for a character and based on animation history, the character can be passive or active. I can think of only three ways to make a character sympathetic. If a character obviously does not have the ability to protect himself or herself, if the character is treated unfairly for any reason, or if the character is attempting to help another, more needy, character. A character who is defenseless, the victim of injustice or altruistic will automatically gain audience sympathy.
While Cartoon Network continues to abandon cartoons in favor of live-action productions, this article in yesterday’s NY TIMES reaffirms how important animation is to Nickelodeon’s success. These paragraphs stood out in particular:
“Animation really is the heart and soul of our business,” Ms. [Cyma] Zarghami said. It accounts, she said, for more than 70 percent of annual revenues from advertising and licensing of consumer products.
Witness the results from the network’s recent 24-hour “SpongeBob” marathon, capped by a single new episode and the first television broadcast of “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” (2004). Those “SpongeBob” episodes accounted for 25 of the 40 highest-rated shows on cable for the week, each drawing from 3.3 million to 6.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The TIMES piece was “coincidentally” timed with today’s announcement by Nickelodeon of their upcoming slate of animated productions. Among their new shows is EL TIGRE: THE ADVENTURES OF MANNY RIVERA, created by my pals Sandra Equihua and Jorge Gutierrez (pictured above). I haven’t seen any of the episodes yet (the show premieres March 2, 2007), but visually, I’m pleased to report that EL TIGRE features some of the most kick-ass eye candy I’ve seen in a TV production in recent years.
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Thanks to digital tools available nowadays like Flash and various CG packages, everybody knows how to move a character, but very few understand how to make a character act and emote. There’s a lot more thought involved in the latter, as is made clear in this insightful mid-1970s discussion between animation legends Richard Williams and Ken Harris. And don’t forget, Ken Harris has an entire website dedicated to his work at MasterAnimator.com.
The Harris and Williams photo above and the link to the interview both come courtesy of Hans Bacher.
“[FANTASIA] is a mishmash of pedantic narration and erratic tone (the finale’s soul-sucking demon gives the death of Bambi’s mom a run for the money in the childhood trauma department), and, frankly, some of the animated sequences now seem dangerously akin to screensavers.” That’s the assessment according to PREMIERE magazine’s list of the 20 most overrated movies of all time.
From the “What Were They Thinking Department”: NBC has produced a live-action remake of the 1970s Rankin/Bass holiday special THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS. The special premieres tonight. I think the still above of the Heat Miser and Snow Miser tells you everything you need to know about the production values on this new special.
This Nicorette commercial is the first spot I’ve seen directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (DEXTER’S LAB, SAMURAI JACK) since he became connected with The Orphanage. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the spot at the moment, but the graphics are undeniably slick and there’s some snappy timing throughout. Besides Tartakovsky’s direction credit, other talent on the spot includes Webster Colcord (animation supervisor), Brian Kulig (cg supervisor), and Jonathan Rothbart (vfx supervisor).
According to the NEW YORK TIMES, Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion loves cartoons and has a collection of thousands of animation dvds. I got a kick out of this sentence in the article: “His stock consists mostly of classics like ‘He-Man,’ ‘Transformers,’ ‘DuckTales,’ ‘ThunderCats,’ ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ and ‘Scooby-Doo.’” Old school? Yeah. Classics? Hardly. Anyway, it’s a fairly amusing article.
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Independent animator (and former syndicated newspaper cartoonist) Chris Harding has a thought-provoking rant on his blog about the perils of allowing your cartoon characters to be licensed for merchandise. He writes:
Here’s how it works: You spend all your energy and passion, and it almost kills you, but somehow you manage to breathe a tiny bit of life into a characterâ€¦ your baby. And then some genius comes along and, bing-bang, sells the rights to print that character’s face on a napkin. That people wipe their food on. On your character’s face. That you worked so hard to breathe life into. Chocolate cake all over their face. It shows contempt for the very idea of a character, because they only exist where we put them. And if they are even slightly real to you, if you care even a little about them, it shows a lot of disrespect to wipe your filth on their faces. It only makes sense if your goal is just to cash out, leaving behind the husks of other peoples’ once lively creations to rot and stink in the nostrils of posterity.
I pointed to some surreal French animated commercials last week, but they don’t come close to this mid-century theatrical spot by German animation legend Hans Fischerkoesen. The commercial, which is kind of like Hitchcock-meets-Harryhausen, advertises Underberg, an herbal formula used to treat indigestion. And all we get in the US for heartburn is squiggly Blechman drawings.
UbuWeb bills itself as a “YouTube of the Avant-Garde” and I can’t think of a better description. Among other things, they have a great collection of avant-garde film, all available for free viewing. The animation offerings are kind of sparse, but there are some difficult-to-find films that are worth checking out including Robert Breer’s A MAN AND HIS DOG OUT FOR AIR, numerous shorts by Walerian Borowczyk, Ed Emshwiller’s early CG landmark SUNSTONE, Frank and Caroline Mouris’s Oscar-winning FRANK FILM, and a couple of stop-motion classics by Ladislaw Starewicz.
The fifth in a series of holiday gift-giving suggestions from your pals at Cartoon Brew.
This one is only for folks in southern California. It used to be that to get your hands on Stuart Ng’s amazing collection of out-of-print and contemporary illustration and cartoon books, one had to wait for the annual San Diego Comic-Con or arrange a personal visit to Stuart’s collection. But now, Stuart has opened a 1000-square-foot showroom in Torrance, and he’s holding his first-ever open house this holiday season. The showroom will be open from 11am to 5pm for the next two weekends: December 9-10 and 16-17. The Stuart Ng showroom is located at 22910 Crenshaw Blvd., Suite B, Torrance, California 90505. To check out his catalog or for more details, visit StuartNgBooks.com. But please, leave a couple Ronald Searle books for me.
What happens when a nutty evangelical homebuilder decides to become the next Walt Disney, and hires a bunch of ex-Disney animators to build his own 2D animation empire in Wisconsin? That sounds like the set-up to a bad joke, but unfortunately, it actually happened last year and the results were predictably disastrous. The story of Tom Hignite and Miracle Studios is recounted in painful detail in the current issue of MILWAUKEE MAGAZINE. It’s a long but mighty entertaining read.
Here’s a series of ten beautiful animated spots produced in France during the 1950s. It’s inspiring how these commercials take full advantage of the medium’s graphic potential. There’s no compromise in these pieces which is what keeps them so fresh and interesting over fifty years later.
We’ve needed a good animation festival here in the US for the long time and we may finally be getting it in the form of the Platform International Animation Festival, which will take place June 25-30, 2007 in Portland, Oregon. The recently launched festival website has more info including details on how to submit films (deadline is March 1, 2007).
The festival is sponsored entirely by Cartoon Network, which was initially some cause for concern, but thankfully, CN seem to be taking a largely hands-off approach and allowing this to become its own festival. I’ve spoken extensively with the festival’s director and founder Irene Kotlarz, and she’s attempting to really push the limits of what an animation festival can be. In addition to screenings of short films and special programs, Platform will weave in and out of related arts by having installations and art exhibits, as well as incorporating comics, illustration and toy design into the programming. It’s exciting to finally have a major festival so close to the animation epicenters of Southern California and the Bay Area. I definitely know where I’ll be next June.
Art Lozzi, a background painter on the early Hanna-Barbera TV cartoons, has written a great little tutorial on his background painting techniques. It is posted on John K’s blog. In it, Lozzi shows when he used sponges, friskets and brush lines, and also discusses a bit of color theory. Well worth checking out.
Somebody recut Disney’s MARY POPPINS into a horror film. A cheap laugh but it works.
Today is Walt Disney’s 105th birthday!
As good a reason as any to celebrate.
What’s one of our favorite recurring topics here at Cartoon Brew? Of course, it’s the “Preston Blair swipe,” which is when an illustrator-hack pilfers artwork from Preston Blair’s classic animation textbook and uses it for their own commercial projects. The latest swipe was found by Adam Koford in Orlando, Florida. If you want to visit this shrine of cartoon incompetence, Adam has geotagged the location on Flickr:
To promote their tangy soda drink Irn Bru (the number one soft drink in Scotland), Scottish soft drink company Barr have created a cheeky homage to Raymond Briggs much loved christmas classic The Snowman, the commercial is also causing a bit of a stir due to the current hysteria in the UK over advertising junk food to children.
Read about the controversy HERE or watch the commercial below:
Yesterday’s NEW YORK TIMES had an article by Charles Solomon about Disney’s new plan to produce animated short. The article states that four animated shorts are in development:
“The Ballad of Nessie,” a stylized account of the origin of the Loch Ness monster; “Golgo’s Guest,” about a meeting between a Russian frontier guard and an extraterrestrial; “Prep and Landing,” in which two inept elves ready a house for Santa’s visit; and “How to Install Your Home Theater,” the return of Goofy’s popular “How to” shorts of the ’40s and ’50s, in which a deadpan narrator explains how to play a sport or execute a task, while Goofy attempts to demonstrate – with disastrous results.
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UPDATE: The storyboard art in the NY TIMES article, including the image above, is by Wilbert Plijnaar.
Today marks the launch of the Animation History Archive on Flickr, a new group I started where we can all share interesting visual bits of animation history. Hopefully this can be sort of like a ‘show and tell’ of classic cartoon history and, in time, become a valuable visual resource for artists everywhere. Here’s a quick description of what can be posted in the group:
Visual materials related to Golden Age animation and animation artists. “Golden Age” means 1920s-1950s, though depending on the material, it could also encompass a few things in the ’60s and ’70s The material posted could include sets of storyboards, layout drawings, old magazine articles about animated films, photos of animation artists and other ephemera related to the industry (for example, gag cartoons or the currently incuded Top Cel union newsletter covers drawn by animation artists).
If you’ve got things in your collection that you want to share or just want to see cool stuff from other people’s collections, you can join the group here:
It’s been a Ralph Hulett kind of week around here. First it was his Christmas cards, now here’s a link to ONE GOT FAT, a bizarre (borderline disturbing) live-action bicycle safety film that he art directed in 1963. The real highlight might be the film’s amusing narration, which comes courtesy of character actor (and “Fractured Fairy Tales” narrator) Edward Everett Horton.
(Thanks, Patrick McCart)
UPDATE: Kevin writes to let us know there’s more info about ONE GOT FAT in the comments section of this post at the Animation Guild blog.
UPDATE #2: Ralph Hulett’s son, Steve, writes in with more info about the film:
This thing was filmed in La Crescenta (up above Glendale) in the summer of ’63. It was directed by William Dale Jennings (who also wrote the script and whose idea it was to make the cyclists monkeys.) Jennings later wrote the novel “Ronin” which has become kind of a cult classic, and the John Wayne epic “The Cowboys,” (1971) based on Jennings’ novel of the same name.
Max Hutto, the cinematographer, had been a director on “Fibber McGee and Molly” in its radio heyday. Hutto, Jennings and Hulett formed a small film company they named “Interlude Films” and proceeded to make a few short movies, all shot on 16mm. My dad provided most of the start-up cash. The company was only in business a few years, and this is the film that has had a weird half-life on the Internet. It went out of copyright years ago, and showed up on YouTube. Somebody saw it and made a spooky music video out of it, and both continue to circle the globe on the Internet.
Father made the monkey masks out of papier mache, and did the titles. He also drove our ’61 Chevy Greenbrier van that drove alongside the monkeys as they pedalled along La Crescenta streets. (They tied the van’s sliding side door open and filmed through the opening.) My younger brother Ralph is the monkey running on foot. My mother Shirley is one of the women (the blonde one) who is knocked into a tree. (I remember being steamed I wasn’t in it. I was too tall.)
The fourth in a series of holiday gift-giving suggestions from your pals at Cartoon Brew.
If you pick up one dvd of foreign animation this holiday season, make it the ANIMATED SOVIET PROPAGANDA four-dvd box set from Films by Jove. I’ve been working my way through the set for the past week and every disc is packed with unbelievable material that I’d never seen before. The films, created between the mid-1920s through the mid-1980s, are separated into four categories:
Disc 1: American Imperialists
Disc 2: Fascist Barbarians
Disc 3: Capitalist Sharks
Disc 4: Shining Future
As can be expected from the disc titles, the films are shamelessly propagandistic, taking aim at everybody from the Americans and the British to the Germans and Fascist ideology. The films have an endearingly kitsch quality at first, but after a few hours of watching this stuff, the material begins to take on a more depressing tone, and one begins to feel sorry for the Russian people who were fed this manipulative garbage for decade after decade.
What’s really fascinating about these films, however, is how much creative effort the Russian animators put into the visuals. They clearly believed in the messages of the films, and though they had little control over what they were saying, they could exercise their imagination with how they presented the same tired slogans. There’s a spirit of experimentation from the earliest films on the disc. For example, SAMOYED BOY (1928) uses regional art styles of northern Russian peoples and BLACK AND WHITE (1933) is graphically mature in a way that few cartoons in the US were in the early-30s.
The Russians weren’t tied down by the demands of creating entertainment cartoons with recurring characters; their assignment was to get across a particular message, and as such, they focused more on the filmmaking aspects than on character and personality development. Though in some of the later films, like SOMEONE ELSE’S VOICE (1949) and THE ADVENTURES OF THE YOUNG PIONEERS (1971), they also exhibit a solid grasp of traditional character animation principles.
If you’re looking for visual inspiration, there’s enough graphic ideas scattered throughout these dvds to keep you busy for a long time. A few of the visual highlights for me: INTERPLANETARY REVOLUTION (1924) is animation at its most Constructivist with photo montage and strong graphic design; the heavy use of black shadows in THE PIONEER’S VIOLIN (1971) gives Mike Mignola a run for the money; THE SHAREHOLDER (1963) is a 23-minute powerhouse of beautifully animated, elegantly staged characters that evoke high-style magazine illustration; and SHOOTING RANGE (1979) uses colorful, gritty ’70s style graphics that somehow still feel fresh today.
With politically-oriented films such as these, providing context is imperative to understanding the works and each disc is supported by a half-hour documentary. The documentaries are appreciated, but I thought they could have been even more helpful to a layperson like myself who isn’t well versed in Russian history. There were snippets of interviews with some of the filmmakers, but I would have liked to have seen longer versions of these interviews instead of extended clips of films that were already on the dvd set (though the clips that had narrative explanation added were very useful). Also, I’d be curious to find out just how much of this propaganda was seen by the average Russian compared to other forms of animation; non-propaganda characters like Cheburashka and Fyodor Khitruk’s version of Winnie the Pooh were also popular among Russian kids so they obviously were exposed to other types of animation. But this is all nitpicking. The dvd set, produced by Joan Borsten, is a must-have for any fan of foreign animation; it’s not only an incredible survey of Russian propaganda animation, but also of the development of the animation art in Russia.
The set is $89 at the Films by Jove store. The website also has a set of notes about the films and offers for viewing a part of the documentary included on the dvd.
Below are some of the inspiring visuals that you can find on the set: