Old but funny…
Thad Komorowski has posted three examples of animation acting – one each from Disney, WB and MGM – all created without the aid of rotoscoping or performance capture. The foolishness of commentaries by critics like Mick LaSalle and James Lipton becomes only more evident when they are presented with actual examples of the animation medium’s expressive potential. LaSalle believes that the animated film has never “had the ability to show the human face. There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film — there was never really anything to see.” Really, Mr. LaSalle? I think Rod Scribner and Bob McKimson proved you wrong about sixty years ago, as evidenced in the clip from TORTOISE WINS BY A HARE. James Lipton thinks that Robert Downey rotoscoped is a better performance than anything an animator could create. Perhaps he should look at Ken Muse’s anguished animation of Tom in HEAVENLY PUSS. We haven’t even begun to examine all the stellar animation in feature films, but even in these short films, the inanity of LaSalle and Lipton’s opinions are exposed.
I didn’t think of doing this but somebody found Mick LaSalle’s review of THE POLAR EXPRESS. An excerpt is below. If anything can be said to his credit, LaSalle is consistent…well, consistently blind.
It’s also an enchanting, beautiful and brilliantly imagined film that constitutes a technological breakthrough. The one profound limitation of animation — the rigid faces that don’t allow for emotional nuance — is overcome through a new process that allows actors to record their performances digitally onto a computer. These performances — the gestures, the subtleties of facial expression — are then used as the template for the computer-animation process.
It reminds me of Ward Jenkins’s classic blog post about POLAR EXPRESS and how it could have been improved.
It looks like the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE’s Mick LaSalle isn’t alone when it comes to film critics who make uninformed sweeping generalizations about the animation art form. Take for example this recent comment (found on Shannon Tindle’s blog) by INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO host James Lipton regarding the use of rotoscope in A SCANNER DARKLY:
In theory, if you rotoscope a really good performance by a really good actor, it ought to be much more effective than an animated performance that’s been drawn or computer generated to match a voice.”
Lipton’s comment reveals a very obvious bias: he believes that an animator is incapable of creating a performance that can compete with a live-action performance. Ironically, Lipton asserts that the only way to achieve a great performance in animation is to have it performed by a live-action actor and then rotoscoped, or in other words, remove the animator as the person who gives life to the character. Comments like Lipton’s and LaSalle’s only serve to illustrate the uphill battle that the art form still faces; with so many stellar examples of animation created over the years, there are still plenty of critics out there who maintain their petty prejudices about the art and remain largely oblivious to animation’s unique and powerful qualities as a communication medium.
UPDATE: Animator Kevan Shorey offers his thoughts on Lipton’s quote and the frustation of working in a medium that is so poorly understood by the mainstream.
Tomorrow evening, July 28, illustrator/toy designer James Jarvis will be having an art show/book signing at Meltdown Comics (7522 Sunset Blvd., LA, CA 90046) from 6-10pm. On display will be numerous pages of development and prepatory drawings (example below) from his recent book project VORTIGERN’S MACHINE AND THE GREAT SAGE OF WISDOM. Reportedly, there’s interest right now in transferring Jarvis’s work to animation. His drawings and toys definitely lend themselves to CG design, and I can imagine his stuff working well if it was animated properly. For more info about the show, visit MeltComics.com or call 323/851.7223.
A prominent Pixar animator emailed me last night with the subject header “This is real” and a link to this must-read-to-believe SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE review of MONSTER HOUSE. I don’t know anything about the reviewer, Mick LaSalle, except that I’ll never be able to take another word this guy writes seriously. It’s one thing to have a subjective view of a film – it’s another to be so glaringly ignorant of the art form you’re discussing to completely dismiss one hundred years of accomplishments and proclaim something so obviously inferior as a technological advance. Here is the most egregious part of LaSalle’s review:
Animated films always had the advantage of being able to go anywhere and show anything, to defy the laws of physics and follow the imagination as far as it could go. But they never had the ability to show the human face. There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film — there was never really anything to see. But with the motion-capture process, real actors give their performances with computer sensors attached to their face and body, and that recorded information becomes the template for the computer animation. If an actor is bug-eyed, the character will look bug-eyed. Moreover, if the actor is thinking or is full of doubt, the technology will be able to render subtle qualities of pensiveness or doubt in the animation.
Imagine what Disney might have done with this in the creation of the Seven Dwarfs. Imagine all the things that will be done with this in the future. “Monster House” looks like the ground floor of something important.
So the only question that remains is, Who’s going to break the news to Ollie Johnston, the last of the Nine Old Men, that all those classic Disney features he animated on were a waste of time because he never had the ability to show an emotive human face? Poor guy, if he’d only had motion-capture to help him animate.
UPDATE: Storyboard artist Jenny Lerew weighs in with an eloquent response to Mick LaSalle’s less-than-eloquent review.
I could write about everything that happened in San Diego during my two-day Con visit, but nothing could possibly say as much as this photo of my new Comic-Con buddies and I. Click on it for its full-size glory. Thanks to Gabe for the photo.
Mark Mayerson rips apart the new book CREATORS: FROM CHAUCER AND DURER TO PICASSO AND DISNEY by British historian and journalist Paul Johnson. According to Mark, the book is riddled with errors about the animated art form, such as:
Winsor McCay is misspelled. Max Fleischer is erroneously credited for Felix the Cat. The Three Little Pigs was released in 1933, not 1932. Alice in Wonderland was released in 1951, not 1957. Carl Stalling was a composer, not an animator. It’s Carl Eduarde, not Edwards. It’s Grim, not Jim, Natwick. It’s Tytla, not Tytler. It’s Ted Sears, not Wears.
What’s particularly disgusting about Johnson’s text is not only the factual inaccuracies, but that he may have deliberately falsified history to promote his personal agendas. For example, his description of how the Disney strike happened is a complete fabrication, but it makes sense that he would write something like that after reading this Wikipedia article about Johnson, that says, “In his Enemies of Society (1977), following a series of articles in the British press, he vehemently attacked the trade union movement for what he saw as its violence and intolerance, terming them as ‘red fascists.’ He also at this time started to inveigh against liberal and left-wing causes.”
Check out Mark’s blog for more of his thoughts on Johnson’s book.
The Ottawa International Animation Festival is right around the corner and the selections for its 2006 edition were announced last week. The full list of films in competition and showcase screenings can be found HERE. My immediate thoughts are that (a.) the selections look really solid and (b.) I’m glad that there’s far fewer films being screened in Ottawa than at Annecy. The Ottawa festival takes place September 20-24.
Chuck Jones once said in an interview that when he wanted to draw believable human characters, he would pattern his drawing after Sam Cobean’s because his “characters always looked to me more like life than life itself.” Prior to becoming a NEW YORKER cartoonist, Sam Cobean had worked in the animation industry at Disney and Columbia. One of Cobean’s earliest print assignments – a WWII-era US military training pamphlet – has now been posted on-line HERE. Subject matter aside, I think Cobean’s drawings are absolutely amazing: funny, direct and super-appealing. If I’d seen any comic book in San Diego with drawings of this caliber, you can bet I’d be raving about it right now.
Animation Guild president Kevin Koch has written a fascinating post on the Guild blog about how to predict an animated film’s final box office gross based on the opening weekend take. Here’s Kevin’s formula and how it applies to recent CG features:
Total Domestic Gross = Opening Weekend x 3 (for a movie with no legs)
TDG = OW x 4.3 (for a movie with great legs)
Just for fun, here are the opening week multipliers of most CG features:
Polar Express — 7.4
Toy Story — 6.6
Shrek — 6.3
Jimmy Neutron — 5.8
Antz — 5.3
A Bugs Life — 4.9
Finding Nemo — 4.3
Toy Story 2 — 4.3
Shrek 2 — 4.1
Monster’s Inc. — 4.1
Hoodwinked — 4.1
Over the Hedge — 4.0
Ice Age — 3.8
The Wild — 3.8
Cars — 3.7 (so far)
The Incredibles — 3.7
Robots — 3.6
Dinosaur — 3.6
Shark Tale — 3.4
Chicken Little — 3.4
Valiant — 3.3
Ice Age 2 — 2.9
Final Fantasy — 2.8
Doogal — 2.1
In the 1920s, some kids around the Los Angeles area contributed drawings and stories to “The Junior Times” which was an insert of the LA TIMES newspaper. A number of these kids went on to become famous animation artists, including Ed Benedict, Fred Moore and Bob Clampett. I’d never seen an example of Clampett’s work from this paper, but Filboid Studge’s blog has unearthed a 1926 comic (“The Innocent Pussy”) by a 12-year-old Clampett. He also found a 1928 short story by Clampett. If you like this sort of historical crap, you’re definitely going to want to check this out.
Ok folks, the news that everybody’s been waiting for! ANIMATON BLAST #9 will debut in San Diego this week!!! It’s been a long four years since the last issue and I couldn’t be more thrilled that we managed to finish this new edition in time for the Comic-Con. My printer in Canada says the issue looks terrific and they’re FedEx’ing a batch down to San Diego today. BLAST 9 should be on the convention floor first thing Friday morning. I’m getting less issues sent down than I’d hoped so if you want to make sure you get a copy in SD, make sure to pick it up early. The exclusive seller of BLAST 9 at the Comic-Con is Stuart Ng Books (booth #5113). The rest of the issues are also being sent down from Canada, and if you’ve pre-ordered an issue, I’m expecting that they’ll be shipped the week of July 31-August 4.
Clay Kaytis of the Animation Podcast has compiled a nice round-up of animation-related booths at the Con. Among other things, he notes that LILO AND STITCH director Chris Sanders will be at the Club Coconut booth (#2044).
Kazu Kibuishi deserves a lot of praise for what he’s done with the FLIGHT graphic anthologies. He’s managed to bring together a lot of talented folks from the comic and animation communities – both well known and up-and-coming artists – and created an exciting new forum to showcase their work. The newest edition, FLIGHT 3, premiered last month and it’s another excellent edition. The Flight booth (#1131) promises to be a central gathering point for a lot of artists this year; check out the Flight Comics website for a COMPLETE LISTING of which artists will be appearing at the Flight booth and where other Flight contributors can be found on the convention floor. I’ve also heard the Flight booth will be offering some exclusives, including a new sketchbook by Rodolphe Guenoden called DIZ, DAT ‘N DOZ.
Sketchcrawl founder and Pixar story artist Enrico Casarosa is debuting the second volume of SKETCHCRAWLINGS in San Diego. The book is a collection of watercolor sketches and autobiographical comics. Enrico’s stubby self-caricature always delivers a laugh and his storytelling sensibilities are superb – in other words, I can’t wait to pick this one up. He’ll be signing the new SKETCHCRAWLINGS at the FLIGHT comics booth (#1131) for most of Friday and Saturday, and he’ll also be doing a signing with Ronnie del Carmen on Saturday from 2:30 to 4pm at Stuart Ng Books (booth #5113).
Maverix Studios is a San Francisco-based collective of animation and comic artists. They’ll be exhibiting in San Diego this year at booth #5485. Among the artists at their booth will be director/designer Ed Bell, who has a new 40-page sketchbook called OASIS. He describes the book as a “visual prologue” to an animated short that will be starting production this fall. If you can’t make it to San Diego, the book is also available at the print-on-demand bookseller Lulu.com. Another prolific talent who’ll be appearing at the Maverix booth is animator/director Robert Valley (AEON FLUX, Gorillaz videos). He’ll have a book called MASSIVE SWERVE, which compiles his strips and sketchbook pages. That book is also available on Lulu.
I first met John K in San Diego eleven years ago so it’s only fitting to mention that John will be in attendance at this year’s Comic-Con. He’ll be appearing at the Every Picture Tells A Story booth (#4721) on Saturday from 2-5 pm, where he’ll be selling original artwork, as well as signing copies of the brand-spanking new dvd REN & STIMPY: THE LOST EPISODES, which was officially released today. Having worked on these episodes, I’m certainly not the right person to offer an unbiased review – for an objective and impartial view on these cartoons, look no further than the blog of animation authority Eddie Fitzgerald.
It’s hardly an everday occurrence that an unknown twenty-something walks into a major studio and is assigned to direct a big-budget animated feature. Today’s LA TIMES has an ARTICLE about that exact scenario: it’s the story of 29-year-old MONSTER HOUSE director Gil Kenan, an artist with no prior track record in feature animation. Unfortunately, it’s a frustrating article because the writer makes a big deal that Kenan is an untested director, yet the piece doesn’t offer any clues as to what’s so impressive about Kenan’s work or what inspired Sony to entrust him with a $75 million film.
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Pixar story artist Scott Morse wins the award for the widest variety of wares being sold by one artist. This year he’s offering custom-painted bowling pins, ukuleles, skate decks (above), hand-bound sketchbooks, t-shirts, the book NOBLE BOY, and various comics he’s done including SOULWIND and VOLCANIC REVOLVER. Morse will be at the Red Window/E-Ville Press booth (#4802). Check out Morse’s blog for a preview of all his products.
Garrett Gilchrist, the chap responsible for the recent THIEF AND THE COBBLER re-edit, has YouTube’d nearly half an hour of classic commercials produced by the Richard Williams Studio. Check them out below:
My book CARTOON MODERN: STYLE AND DESIGN IN FIFTIES ANIMATION will be making its official debut in San Diego this week. These are the first copies that are being sold to the public. My publisher Chronicle only managed to get forty books from the printer so they may not last through the weekend, but they’ll definitely be there when the doors open Thursday morning. I’ll be doing a signing on Friday, July 21st, from 3-4pm at the Chronicle Books booth (#1019). If I find the time, I’ll try to make a special dvd with a few of my favorite difficult-to-find 50s cartoons. Anybody who purchases the book at the signing will receive this lovely dvd as a thank-you gift.
Artist Chris Appelhans has posted some superb concept art that he created for the upcoming MONSTER HOUSE. If the finished “performance capture” animation looked half as cool as Appelhan’s work, I’d be the first in line to see this film when it opens on Friday.
Based on the reaction the film received last month at the sneak preview at the Annecy animation festival, I’d have to predict that MONSTER HOUSE is going to be a hit. Nearly everybody I spoke to who attended the Annecy screening enjoyed the film a lot. The film is apparently entertaining and a refreshing change of pace from the childish animal-oriented comedies that every other animation studio is producing nowadays. A lot of people at Annecy were comparing it to early Spielberg films as well as THE GOONIES. It didn’t win everybody over however. One animator I spoke to walked out of the film after half an hour, saying that there was no reason for the film to be animated in the first place.
Back here in the States, Sony held sneak previews of MONSTER HOUSE last Saturday at 700 theaters. According to Box Office Mojo, attendance was strong at two-thirds capacity, eighty percent of which were families. Sony’s distribution chief Rory Bruer, however, is being extremely cautious with MONSTER HOUSE estimates, saying, “I think we’ll open in the mid-$20 million range, hopefully.” Bottomline: it may not be a very good animated film, but signs are pointing that MONSTER HOUSE will be a very successful animated film.
PS – San Diego Comic-Con attendees can get a sneak preview of the film – in 3D – while at the convention. Here’s the info from the Comic-Con website: Screenings are Wednesday night at 10:00 PM, and Thursday 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 10:00 PM and 12:00 AM at the United Artists Horton Plaza theater. Tickets are available at the Sony booth (#3945) on a first-come, first-served basis.
(MONSTER HOUSE concept art via Flight Comics)