Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, has taken Bart out of Springfield and plopped him into the real-world by using the iconic character to promote her personal religious causes. Below is a robo-call in which she uses Bart’s voice imploring people to attend a Scientology event. All I can say is it’s extremely uncomfortable hearing Bart in this context.
Director and animator Emily Hubley is embarking on a nationwide screening tour of her live-action/animation feature film debut The Toe Tactic. The film starts a six-day run at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this evening. After that, she’ll travel with the film to Rochester, NY, Los Angeles, San Diego, Cambridge, MA, Williamstown, MA, St. Louis, Portland, Seattle, Houston, Ann Arbor, MI, and Austin. A complete schedule can be found at TheToeTactic.com. For ticket info on the MoMA screenings, visit the MoMA website, and be sure to check back tonight at 8pm (EST) for a ticket giveaway to this Friday’s screening at MoMA. We’ll be handing out multiple pairs of tickets.
I did a short e-mail interview with Emily to find out a bit about what she’s been up to lately:
For people who haven’t heard of the film, tell us a little about what The Toe Tactic is about?
Well, there are all kinds of reasons for those times in life when you lose your footing, but in this case it’s a young woman’s revisited grief for her dead father when she learns her childhood home has been sold. Her temporary withdrawal from the action of her life triggers the connection to an animated reality in which four dogs play a game of cards, the object of which is to get her back in step with the world.
As a short filmmaker, how easy or difficult was it transitioning to feature filmmaking? Was there any aspect of the production that took you by surprise or was it fairly similar to the short film process?
Everything was more complicated, took longer, and cost more money. But the business of bringing so many talented people into the process was invigorating and providing cast and crew with what they needed to do their best work without diluting the film’s distinct personality, was a really fun challenge – one I’d never had in the making of my short films.
You’ve mentioned in prior interviews that your parents, John and Faith, were influential in your decision to enter filmmaking. What sort of lessons, filmmaking and beyond, did you learn from your mom Faith, whom you worked with closely for a number of years?
The word is a cliché, but Faith was so contagiously passionate about her work, being disciplined, and the role of the artist â€¦ it was hard for anyone to be around her without catching that I some way and I was around her a lot!. (though I wish I was more disciplined.) I think I have an inability to do work I don’t love — and over the years, I’ve been able to find ways to be proud of what I do well without wasting time feeling too ashamed of what I stink at.
Beginning this week, you’re going on a nationwide theatrical tour with Toe Tactic and offering audiences an opportunity to see it on the big screen. Why did you go through the effort of self-organizing a tour like this in a day and age where most indie filmmakers are content to simply release their features onto DVD?
There is something about watching a film with a group that you don’t get at home. It’s my instinct that the movie is learning how to ride a bike and I’m not ready to let go of the back of the seat. Come May, when the tour (at this point anyway) will be about done, I’m sure I’ll be more than ready. We expect to release a DVD in the Fall — keep posted.
What are some other projects that you’re currently working on?
Collaboratively, Jeremiah Dickey and I just completed inserts for two great documentaries – William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe directed by Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, which just showed at Sundance, and What’s On Your Plate? directed by Catherine Gund, which will show at the Berlinale next month. We also made a really fun title sequence for a TV pilot called “Living in Captivity” and may create some inserts for their next cut.
Personally, I’m starting to write new material which I’ll continue to develop while I’m on the tour. It might turn into a movie, but it also might be some kind of written or performed piece with illustrations, It’s very mysterious at this point and secret. I hope to start noodling with these ideas by making a short or two as well. We’ll see!
The Toe Tactic @ MoMA
January 28—February 2, 2009
Tickets $10 (Adult), $8 (Seniors), $6 (Students)
Appealing religion-oriented animation is hard to come by–Jot excepted–so I had to share this brief but well-done piece for the religious cartoon series TheoCartoons.com called “Falling Short of God’s Glory Through Sin.” It was created by Bob McKnight. When I used to live in LA, Bob was one of my favorite people to run into because he always had a million great stories to share. He’s had quite a career that includes everything from animating Sesame Street segments to the film titles for Who’s That Girl?, as well as working on revivals of classic animation characters like Blooper Bunny and House of Mouse.
(Thanks to Chogrin who pointed out this bit of animation to me.)
Rumors start making their way around the Internet last night, on websites like FirstShowing.net and the Animation Guild blog, that the LA animation studio Imagi was temporarily shutting down operations. As mentioned on the Brew last month, the studio has been experiencing a multitude of financial problems.
The Anime News Network has now confirmed with the president of Imagi, Erin Corbett, that only the animators of Astro Boy have been asked to stop coming to work, while the rest of the staff continues to develop other projects such as Gatchaman and Tusker. Additionally, nobody is working at Imagi’s Hong Kong facilities this week though they say that was already planned because of Chinese New Year’s holidays. Most of the studio’s animation staff is in Hong Kong so it is unclear how many artists were asked to stop coming to work at its LA branch. The studio expects more funding to come through this week so that everybody can return to work soon. The uncertainty about the studio’s future isn’t helped by the fact that their website has been taken down completely at the time of this writing.
UPDATE: Kevin Koch, president of the Animation Guild, posted in our comments with new information that says ALL of the artists at LA’s Imagi’s office have been told not to come to work this week. The studio’s president Corbett had previously told Anime News Network that only the “animation team” had been asked not to report to work. Here is the full text of Koch’s comment:
The Animation Guild office has received confirmation that everyone at Imagi in Los Angeles was told not to come in to work this week. The office also got a call from Imagi US president Erin Corbett, who told us that Imagi is in a “holding pattern” until Feb. 3, when they will find out about the next round of funding.
This looks like it could be a temporary hiccup, or a very bad thing. We’re holding our breath and hoping it is sorted out quickly.
I’d been forewarned that the art of book for Coraline was not very good, but that didn’t prepare me for the publishing disaster that is Coraline: A Visual Companion. After looking at it in the bookstore recently, I can say with some confidence that this is the single worst ‘art of’ book I’ve ever seen published in conjunction with a major animated release.
For beginners, all of the film stills in the book are pixelated and muddy. I’m not talking just about the full-page frame blowups, even regular-sized images that take up only a third or half of the page look like hell. Beyond the poor image reproduction, they also made an inexcusable editorial decision to print the visual development artwork of only two illustrators: Dave McKean and Tadahiro Uesugi. The book, in fact, neglects to showcase the work of any of the animation artists who worked on the film, including the people who actually designed the look and feel of the movie.
One of the film’s primary character designers Shane Prigmore recently did a post on his blog about working on the film. In that post, he mentions some of the artists whose work shaped the film visually, including visual development artists Dan Krall, Shannon Tindle, Chris Appelhans, Jon Klassen, Andy Schuhler, and Stef Choi, sculptors Kent Melton, Damon Bard, Leo Rijn, Tony Merrithew and Scott Foster, and story artist Chris Butler, Andy Schuhler, Vera Brosgol, Graham Annable and Mike Cachuella. Unbelievably not a single piece of artwork from any of these artists can be found in the book. Instead it is page after page of Tadahiro Uesugi’s work. A lot of it is repetitive because they are costume suggestions that he drew using characters that had already been designed by the artists listed above. The irony is that even fans of Uesugi’s work will be disappointed because of the small print size of his artwork.
For all I know, the writing in the book (and there is a lot of it) may be wonderful. The book, however, is called “A Visual Companion” and on that mark it is a complete and utter failure. I’ve never seen an ‘art of’ book that eliminates the work of every single artist who worked on the film save for one whose work wasn’t even a primary factor in the film’s final look.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Coraline for a long time and I still am. Unfortunately, with tie-in books like this and the film’s lackluster marketing campaign (the subway and bus stop ads around NYC are a subject for another time), I may be watching the film in an empty movie theater.
(To see a representative sampling of artwork from this film, check out a discussion panel with the film’s key designers on Saturday February 7 at Gallery Nucleus.)
The image above is of Charlee, a fan of the Avatar series, who protested the live-action film’s racially questionable casting choices at an Avatar casting call in Philadelphia today. He writes about his experience in this blog comment.
Apparently part of Paramount’s marketing plan for Avatar is to alienate every Asian-American before the film is released. For example, listen to the film’s dimwitted casting director Deedee Rickets, who recently explained to a Pennsylvania newspaper how they wanted to cast ethnic extras: “We want you to dress in traditional cultural ethnic attire. If you’re Korean, wear a kimono. If you’re from Belgium, wear lederhosen.”
Apparently, nobody informed her that the kimono is not the national dress of Korea, but of Japan. The Angry Asian Man blog is rightfully angry. He writes:
“Right. Koreans, kimonos, funny Asian outfits… they’re all the same. It’s apparent that the people making this movie really don’t care about the kind of movie they’re making, as long as they get to use Asians (and their basket-weaving skills) as props.”
More links to disappointment:
Avant Garde Retard reimagines Avatar director M. Night Shyamalan turned white.
Passionate outrage from Maykazine
A blog post by angered Chinese-American who laments “a great opportunity for aspiring young Asian actors that has been taken away.”
Well, Fuck You Too, Hollywood: Not eloquent but an honest sentiment from a fan.
And it’s not just Asians, even the Angry Black Woman is angry: “I’m holding out one hope – that this is some kind of messed-up viral marketing effort, maybe using reverse psychology to get people all riled up about the film so they’ll blog about it, etc. But if this is really the cast they’re planning to go with, I will definitely be boycotting this movie, and urging everyone I know to do the same.”
A lot of people online are talking about the forthcoming live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon’s animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender and nobody has a single nice thing to say. The source of controversy: the four lead actors cast in the live-action version are all white.
Comic book artist Derek Kirk Kim wrote an impassioned blog entry about the casting choices and explains succinctly why this is such a poor decision on Paramount’s part:
“[Avatar is] wholly and inarguably built around Asian (and Inuit) culture. Everything from to the costume designs, to the written language, to the landscapes, to martial arts, to philosophy, to spirituality, to eating utensils!–it’s all an evocative, but thinly veiled, re-imagining of ancient Asia. (In one episode, a region is shown where everyone is garbed in Korean hanboks–traditional Korean clothing–the design of which wasn’t even altered at all.) It would take a willful disregard of the show’s intentions and origins to think this wouldn’t extend to the race of the characters as well. You certainly don’t see any blonde people running around in Avatar. (I’m not saying that would have necessarily been a bad thing, I’m just stating the facts of the show and the world in which it is set.)”
To rub salt in the wound, this is what actor Jackson Rathbone told an interviewer about how he needs to prepare to play a role in Avatar: “I definitely need a tan.” Unbelievable.
Recently Madeline Ashby penned an excellent thought-provoking piece for FPS Magazine about the growing trend of live-action anime adaptations and the systematic exclusion of Asians from these films (the upcoming live versions of Akira and Cowboy Bebop also handed lead roles to white actors). She also ponders why movie studios don’t actually support the studios making the original works instead of trying to cash in with watered-down adaptations:
The anime industry is barely getting by, at a point in time when its global appeal is most highly recognized. As Roland Kelts points out in Japanamerica, people who believe that anime is a lucrative business for the animators or even directors are sadly deluded…But big names like DiCaprio and Reeves could give the industry a much-needed boost by following the Tarantino and Wachowski method: fund your own anime, rather than commissioning adaptations. For the cost of a Hollywood film, couldn’t you pay the people at Gonzo or Production IG or Bones to animate your own script? What if, instead of meatsack re-hashings of classic anime titles, we got fresh product done by professionals who know the medium inside and out?
Back to Avatar, an online letter-writing campaign has been launched encouraging people to write in about the film’s casting. Concerned fans are being asked to address their letters to Paramount’s head of production, Mark Bakshi, who, in an ironic twist, is the son of Ralph Bakshi, a filmmaker who always dealt frankly and openly with racial issues in his work. UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that though everybody is addressing their complaint letters to Bakshi, he was laid off from Paramount quite a few months ago.
(Thanks to Anson Jew who brought this story to my attention on Cartoon Brew’s Facebook page)
Animator Elliot Cowan recently posted the following animation on YouTube featuring his characters Boxhead and Roundhead. The short uses an unlicensed piece of music by They Might Be Giants:
So how did the band respond to this? They called up Elliot, while he was taking a dump no less, to tell him they liked the animation and that he should change the credit at the end of the video from “Used Without Permission” to “Used With Permission.”
There are so many video sharing website contests and the like which encourage you to submit your work because you’ll get some “exposure.” If Elliot’s story proves anything, exposure is available to everybody, it’s free, and it doesn’t require silly contests. The key is to simply get your work out there. If it’s good, people will discover it and who knows what can come out of that.
Earlier this week, Cartoon Network premiered a new episode of The Powerpuff Girls in honor of the show’s tenth anniversary. Notably, the cartoon was produced in Flash for the first time. All previous episodes were animated traditionally on paper. In this post at Cold Hard Flash, creator Craig McCracken and animation director Eric Pringle discuss how they transitioned the show from hand-drawn to Flash. McCracken, who came up with the characters in 1991, thinks the show should have been made in Flash from day one:
“The show was designed with very tight, crisp, bold, clean-ups. Because it was originally hand-drawn, the line weights always varied, but with Flash we were able to get that crisp look every time. Looking back at the PPG series, I realized I designed a Flash show before Flash was invented!”
On an semi-related note, why didn’t I know Craig has his own DeviantArt page with over 5,000 fans on it? The image at the top of this post–the first drawing he ever did of the crime-fighting trio–is taken from his DeviantArt.
Blogs were abuzz last week after it was revealed that Disney CEO Bob Iger took home $30.6 million in salary and bonuses in 2008. So what exactly has Iger done since taking over the company in 2005? Fortune magazine recently published an article “Bob Iger rocks Disney” that talks about his accomplishments during the past few years.
While the studio has been financially successful with many of its projects–Hannah Montana, High School Musical, Jonas Brothers, Cars, “Princesses” and “Fairies” franchises–it could also be argued that most of these are short-sighted projects designed to cash in on popular trends. With the exception of some of John Lasseter’s initiatives, there appears to be little vision within the company for creating quality work that has long-term and multi-generational value. Is it any surprise that three of Disney’s four highest-grossing movies of the 2000s have been based on Pirates of the Caribbean, a theme park ride that opened over forty years ago at Disneyland.
Here are some noteworthy facts and figures I ran across in the Fortune piece:
* Iger’s two biggest strategic changes since taking over: One was his subtle but seismic decision to refocus the company and most of its more than 150,000 employees around its roster of ‘franchises,’ like the Jonas Brothers–Iger defines a franchise as ‘something that creates value across multiple businesses and across multiple territories over a long period of time.’ The second change was unsubtle: Just days into Iger’s new job, Disney acquired Pixar, bringing Apple’s Steve Jobs onto the company’s board in the process.
* Cars is an example of a Disney franchise that is successful on many levels: Three years after the movie came out, sales of [Cars] licensed merchandise are running at more than $2 billion annually. [The film only grossed $462 million worldwide.] A Cars sequel is in production. Disney will soon launch an elaborate Cars virtual world. But the biggest bet on Cars is Cars Land, a 12-acre stretch of Disney’s California Adventure theme park set to open in 2012.
* Iger has been getting rid of some middle-management: Internally, in a move treated like D-day, Iger dismantled a corporate strategic-planning department that had to clear most of the company’s major decisions. “When he took that job, Disney was really messed up,” recalls Jobs. “Bob looked at the guys running the divisions and said, ‘You’re in charge of your businesses now.’”
* Disney makes a lot of money from sports: Sports juggenaut ESPN–80% owned by Disney–is estimated by Doug Mitchelson of Deutsche Bank to have generated around one-third of the company’s $8.4 billion in 2008 operating income.
* Their classic franchises are not as big a part of the company as they once were: A decade ago the Mickey Mouse and Winnie-the-Pooh franchises accounted for 80% of the company’s consumer products business; today it’s closer to 50%.
* Disney is currently the most valuable media company in the world: Under Iger Disney has become the world’s largest media conglomerate by market value, worth around $40 billion.
* Steve Jobs, who is Disney’s largest individual shareholder with a 7% stake, likes Iger: “I consider Bob Iger a friend,” says Jobs. “I don’t have a lot of friends. I just really like him, and he’s a really solid guy.”
Villains are bound to get their due when Bruce Lee (or a reasonable facsimile) teams up with Popeye. The clip is from the 1977 feature The Dragon Lives Again and an explanation is offered on this Wikipedia page.
(Thanks, Jacob Ospa)
Following up on the piece about the 3D papercraft/cut-out trend, here are two new works that are more-or-less from that school of thought.
I’ve received three emails about this first project in the past day so I figure it’s what all the young kids are talking about this week. It’s a music video for the song “Bubblicious” by music producer Jake Williams, aka Rex the Dog. It was directed by Geoffroy de Crecy at Partizan Lab. The DIY stop-mo aesthetic is fun to watch, but it began to feel repetitive once I realized that that was the video’s entire gimmick and it wasn’t building towards anything more substantial. It’s a great ‘making-of’ video; it’s too bad they weren’t actually making anything.
More successful as a finished piece–yet flawed in an entirely different way–is “Unboxed”, a stop-motion and traditional hand-drawn commercial for Audi co-directed by Aaron Duffy at 1st Ave Machine and Russell Brooke of Passion Pictures. There’s an interview with Aaron Duffy about the commerical at Motionographer. I like the piece, but it’s uncomfortably derivative of cartoonist Saul Steinberg, both conceptually and design-wise. It would have been a classier move if they’d been straight up and acknowledged they were using Steinberg’s work as inspiration instead of pretending like they have no idea who he is and saying in their interview that they “did dozens of designs” for the ad agency. I’m sure they did dozens of character designs, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the character is handled in such a Steinberg-esque manner.
Last week’s post about Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and the place of executives generated a lot of feedback, including this email from Bruno Afonso in France:
Recently, you posted a great video with Frank Zappa, about how the old-school executives were way more hands-off than now. It reminded me of something I had seen in a BBC programm called “Comedy Connections” about the creation of the Monty Python. It was more or less the same thing. When they made their first TV series, the BBC executives just told them “Well, you’ve got an order for thirteen episodes, go and make them, you’re on the air in September” and that was it! I found the clip on YouTube where the Montys explain it. They say it in the first minute. I, for one, think it’s quite interesting that all of these geniuses (Tex Avery, Frank Zappa, Monty Python) made their best work when left alone.
For the sake of posterity, here are the comments from the castmembers. John Cleese said:
“I was incredibly impressed with the risks they’d take. We went in to see Michael Mills and we explained extremely inadequately what we had in mind. There were huge gaps absolutely everywhere and at the end of a thoroughly unsatisfactory meeting, from Michael’s point of view, he said just go away and make thirteen.”
And from Eric Idle:
“Well, the BBC was a much more laid back place. It was a bit more like a retirement from the RAF filled with people who were having offices and going off smoking their pipes and having beer. So they were very laid back about it. They said, “Well look, here we are, we’ve got thirteen of them, you’re on the air in September and see you then,” and they sort of left. They didn’t really care. It was fabulous. It was the golden age of executives. There weren’t any.”
Personally, I find the contemporary balance of power between executives and artists very curious. Why do non-creative people exercise so much control over artists in the creation of animated projects? Does it make the finished product any better? Is there a precedent showing that quality work was previously created in this manner? The answer to that latter question is clear at least; if one looks back at the history of how classic works of animation (and other media) have been produced, in every instance it was different from the way animation is produced nowadays. How much of that is the fault of the artists themselves? If somebody accepts the input of a creatively inferior person and gives equal weight to that person’s opinions, doesn’t that eventually legitimize that person? In other words, could it be that industry artists have weakened their own standing throughout the years by consistently collaborating with creatively inferior people?