There’s a war brewing in the animation software world and Cartoon Brew is right in the thick of it. In fact, I only became aware of the no-holds-barred battle in the past few months because two of our biggest advertisers have been the dueling companies: Adobe and Toon Boom. The latter is currently making a serious run to overtake Adobe Flash as the preferred software package for 2D digital animators. Toon Boom’s new Animate software has an animator-friendly set of features and more importantly, it’s price-competitive with Flash. This isn’t a new development. We spoke of the animation community’s increasing dissatisfaction with Flash last January when Mucha Lucha creators Eddie Mort and Lili Chin announced they were switching to Toon Boom software.
[Toon Boom] Animate is definitely an exciting release for animators who are frustrated with the animation limitations of Flash. It’s also the most intuitive of their fantastic animation programs to date and it’s priced very competitively. Packed with animator-friendly tools, is based entirely on traditional animation workflow (with all the benefits of digital animation) and has a library of effects that will put your work way ahead of the average web animator.
Phillips’ verdict on Flash CS4:
If you’re sticking with Flash and you decide to upgrade to Flash CS4, I think you’ll be blown away by it. There are a few persistent gripes, such as masking, audio, video format export, brush sizes & shapes, colour management and the Timeline. However, certain new features have thrilled the shit outta me! They include armatures (Inverse Kinematics), 3D movieclip translate/scale/rotate, the Motion Editor (an amazing, kickarse version of the old Custom Ease window), Spray Brush (which can spray movieclips all over the Stage – perfect for say, millions of flowers in a meadow, animated swaying in the breeze) and completely new motion tween model.
It’s no coincidence that industry website Cold Hard Flash recently hosted three launch events in LA, NY and Toronto celebrating the release of Toon Boom Animate. Not to mention the site’s primary advertising spots are taken up by Toon Boom. The bottom line is that this competition between software makers should lead to more powerful and efficient packages for the animation community. Hopefully both software makers will continue to use Cartoon Brew as a battleground for spreading their message. We could use the few extra bucks.
Would be interesting to hear some animator perspectives in the comments–who’s switching to Toon Boom and who’s sticking with Flash? Speak up.
This is the time of year that news and media organizations begin the avalanche of annual “best of” lists and the like. The thought of doing a “best of” list strikes me as arrogant, especially when it comes to something as subjective as art. So instead I present you with my personal picks of the year. I make no claim that these are the best of 2008; these are only the things that I enjoyed most during the past year. Also be sure to read Cartoon Brew co-editor Jerry Beck’s personal picks of 2008.
Let me begin by apologizing for not praising this film enough on Cartoon Brew (thankfully Jerry has). So let me just say it now: Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues is hands-down one of the most entertaining animated features I’ve ever seen. That fact is even more impressive because I went into the film thinking I wouldn’t be able to sit through an entire Flash-animated feature that looked like the image above. But Paley’s deeply personal story kept me captivated for its entire length, a rarity in my feature animation viewing experiences, and the animation only added to the story. There wasn’t a false note in the film. That it was made by one-person is nothing short of unbelievable. That nobody can see the film due to copyright issues is nothing short of criminal.
Violence and animation: a tried-and-true combination that is taken to new heights in Superjail, a surprisingly well-done piece of TV animation that airs on [Adult Swim] of all places.
It’s a tie between the same filmmaker–David OReilly. Whether he’s pranking the world with his Octocat series or exploring contemporary forms of animated storytelling in his Please Say Something series, OReilly is one of the most promising young animators on the contemporary animation scene.
There were plenty of fine animated shorts in ’08 including, but not limited to, Chainsaw by Dennis Tupicoff, I Am So Proud of You by Don Hertzfeldt, The Tale of Little Puppetboy by Johannes Nyholm, My Grandmother Beijing by Mats Grorud, Cattle Call by Matt Rankin and Mike Maryniuk and Drux Flux by Theo Ushev. One film stood out above all. It is a remarkable grand-scale animation experiment that turns the entire world into an animation canvas. Pencil or digital–who cares? All you need is a wall and housepaint. No doubt about it, my favorite animated short of 2008 is Muto by Blu.
Ironically, movement and animation are often the most ignored parts of an animated production, so I want to give special credit to two animated shorts that had creative tour de force animation performances. Both films can be viewed online though neither of them have English translations.
When will CG studios recognize that the opening and end credits are not the only parts of their films that should be interesting to look at? Case in point, the appealing opening titles to Kung Fu Panda. A joy to watch–I’m waiting for the CG equivalent of this.
One of the great joys of doing this website is that it affords me an outlet to record my personal discoveries about the art form, whether it’s learning about amazing films I haven’t heard about (FehérlÃ³fia), artists I wasn’t aware of (Stan Vanderbeek) or understanding the nuances of animation history (the unacknowledged diversity of the industry during the Golden Age).
ANIMATION STUDIO Fred and Sharon’s Movie Productions: Quality-wise they’re somewhere between Roadside Romeo and Space Chimps, but this Canadian husband-and-wife directing dynamo set themselves apart by tackling weighty subject matter like anti-war dramas:
Alcohol and drug abuse, male prostitution and child molestation are not exactly standard fare for animation biographies. The Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin by Chris Robinson is the story of fallen-from-grace NFB animator Ryan Larkin (1943-2007). Robinson, the director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, was responsible for bringing Larkin back into the spotlight in the 2000s which culminated with Chris Landreth’s Oscar-winning shortform biopic Ryan, but by the end of the book, Robinson largely regrets “rediscovering” Larkin. Chris also weaves in stories from his own troubled past resulting in a powerful and poignant book. The book comes with a DVD of Landreth’s Ryan and two of Larkin’s films, Walking and Street Musique.
ANIMATION BLOG (CONTINUING)
Michael Sporn’s Splog: The personal blog of Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning animation director Michael Sporn is truly a thing of wonder. Updated every single day for three years running, it is a phenomenal resource of ideas and artwork. His passion for the art form comes through in every post.
ANIMATION BLOG (NEW) Animondays by David Levy. Technically, it started last fall, but 2008 was ASIFA-East president Levy’s first full year as a blogger. He writes just one post a week, but they’re invariably thought-provoking and insightful.
ANIMATION BLOG (NEW – HONORABLE MENTIONS) Popeye Animator ID: Master animator and timing director Bob Jaques tells you more about Popeye animators than you could ever want to know.
Spectorphile: A blog about animation legend Irv Spector created by his son Paul Spector.
ANIMATION ART EXHIBIT
Whenever I’m depressed about the state of the art form, I only have to watch a film by the Hubleys like Tender Game or Moonbird to regain my enthusiasm for the medium. Despite being intimately familiar with their work, I still wasn’t quite prepared for the awesomeness of seeing John Hubley’s background paintings and storyboard panels from Adventures of an * (1957). The exhibit covered all of one wall in the basement of the Museum of Modern Art this past summer, but that’s all that was needed. Hubley’s work represents animation at its most artistic and daring, and offers a guide for where we still need to take this art form. Piece after piece, Hubley discarded animation’s tendencies for crude mass-produced imagery and created a vision of uncompromising individuality and aesthetic beauty. More art from the exhibit can be seen at Michael Sporn’s blog.
Disney is prepping Beauty and the Beast for a 3D release in 2010. Producer Don Hahn spoke to SlashFilm.com about why and how the studio was reformatting Beauty and the Beast for 3D screens. The ‘why’ part is fairly obvious–Disney is in the business of making money and they’re not exactly raking it in at the box office with their current batch of features. In corporate speak, Hahn translates that to: “It’s a chance to take a title that’s very beloved by the audience and try to share it in a way that people haven’t seen before.”
The ‘how’ part is more interesting. Apparently because it was all composited on separate layers and level using the studio’s early CAPS system, they can now separate those layers into a depth of field to create a 3D experience. Says Hahn:
“We didn’t want to do the layers of flatness. There are some old Chip and Dale cartoons that do that…I think what we we want to do is not do that, and create a truly dimensional environment. It’s a very hybrid approach. There’s some proprietary software that Disney created for this, and it actually bends the drawings around geometry. You take a character like Belle or the Beast and you create geometry in the computer that matches the image on the screen, and then bend the original movie around that geometry, be it the character or a background, a tree, or a building or whatever. That creates very dimensional, round faces.”
Has anybody gotten their hands on this book yet? A Century of Stop-Motion Animation: From Melies to Aardman is co-authored by animation legend Ray Harryhausen and film historian Tony Dalton. It looks very comprehensive both text-wise and image-wise. A potentially valuable addition to animation libraries.
No, we’re not referring to MTV’s old animation show; this is real cartoon sushi. Anna the Red creates aesthetically delightful cartoon bento boxes, including a lot of Mario and Miyazaki dishes, and documents them on her blog. A description of the ingredients in the Wall-E sushi above can be found on Flickr.
The BBC reports that British animator and TV show creator Oliver Postgate has passed away at age 83. He’s responsible for TV series like Ivor the Engine, the Clangers, the Pogles, Noggin the Nog and Pingwings (which I wrote about on the Brew last year). Many of these shows are beloved in his native England though they remain largely unknown outside of the UK. A short video in the BBC link above explains that Postgate’s earliest animated shows were created in a horse stable with minuscule budgets and homemade equipment.
It’s our 13th episode and we’ve got Adventures in Broccoli, a 2008 Pratt graduation film created by Dan Mountain. It’s a surreal mindtrip of a film that follows the adventures of a boy who wakes up in a broccoli world where anything can happen. Watch Adventures in Broccoli on Cartoon Brew TV.
On a sidenote, we have also re-uploaded an earlier Brew TV short The Shoebox that fixes the encoding problems which were affecting picture quality.
As I was watching Dan Mountain’s Adventures in Broccoli at the year-end Pratt screening a few months back, I was thinking to myself that not only is this a damn good student film, it’s also something I wouldn’t mind seeing every week on television. The setup is draped in mystery–a boy wakes up in a broccoli (or is he even awake?)–and odd characters and events are introduced into his life in rapid-fire stream-of-conscious fashion. It’s somewhere between Avatar and Adventure Time with equal mixes of action and whimsy. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of any cartoon that gives the hipster-on-a-bicycle his comeuppance.
Dan Mountain will be participating in the comments section so fire away if you want to know anything. Here are some comments from Dan about how the film came about:
Adventures in Broccoli got its title in early May 2008, after about eight months of production, and about forty hours before it was due. This was a very haphazard time, because when I came back to Pratt for the Fall 2007 semester, I had a completely different story already storyboarded, and I was eager to start ASAP on that particular story. However, Pat Smith and Andy London (our class’ thesis advisors) kept telling me that it wasn’t even a story; it was just a bunch of random ideas with the only thread being that it takes place in giant broccoli. This greatly discouraged me, but was the first driving factor to making this.
The problem was that this film is a mere idea of a greater story I have been working on that is sort of an on going social commentary placed in an alternate reality to point out things I think about in this reality. Its a pretty epic story I hope to develop into a series, which is loosely based on The Mars Volta album “De-Loused in The Comatorium”, the evolution of music and the images that come to mind when I listen to music, the colonization of North America, technology, and every day human nature. Also super heroes and the idiots that become them.
I started drawing in October, knowing what I wanted to put in the film, but not how to organize it. I didn’t even have a storyboard; just a few scene animatics that I started placing here and there. Only then did I begin to figure out how to segue between them. This ended up with me accruing a total of about two weeks of all nighters during the Spring 2008 semester. I think that is what made this film so ridiculous; the fact that it was put together on the fly, as it went, while being completely sleep deprived.
Adventures in Broccoli is my first animated film, and I plan to make many more, because I had so much fun making it. It’s funny to sit back and think seriously about how ludicrous you can make a story.
The Sundance Film Festival announced today their short film selections for the 2009 festival which runs January 15-25 in Park City, Utah. Animation is well-represented this year with nine American shorts and ten international shorts in competition. This is in addition to the festival’s opening night film which is also animated: Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max. This is the feature debut of Elliot, who won an Oscar for his clay-animated short Harvie Krumpet. It is described as the “tale of two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a forty-four-year old, severely obese man living in New York. The story is based on the director’s own pen-friendship that has also lasted over twenty years.”
Among the animated shorts, the sentimental favorite at Cartoon Brew headquarters is Dominic Bisignano‘s From Burger It Came. That’s because we chose this film to be featured in episode 7 of Cartoon Brew TV. We’ve removed it temporarily at the filmmaker’s request, so he can comply with Sundance regulations, but it’ll be back up shortly. Also congrats to Cartoon Brew Guest Brewer PES whose short film Western Spaghetti is also in competition.
A complete list of the nineteen animated shorts in competition can be found after the jump.
Another curious entry is For Sock’s Sake, which is a stop-motion short produced by one person, Carlo Vogele. Though Vogele graduated from Gobelins, he made this film during an exchange semester at CalArts. I’ve seen pieces of clothing anthropomorphized like this before but the quality of acting and personality in Vogele’s animation is particularly impressive and shows a promising animator in the making.
The Japan Times has details about a press conference that Hayao Miyazaki held in Tokyo a few weeks ago. The article describes him as a “cranky 67-year-old” which is not too inaccurate a description considering what he said at the conference. Then again, anybody who makes films as well as Miyazaki does deserves to be as cranky as they want.
Miyazaki seemingly has an opinion about everything, from Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s apprecation of manga (“It’s an embarrassment. He should do that sort of thing in his private time.”) to how classic films don’t work for today’s audiences (“[A]udiences today can no longer enjoy films that are more than 30 years old, save in a historical sense…If Casablanca were released now, it wouldn’t be a hit.”). He also thinks that today’s kids shouldn’t use so much technology (“It takes away their strength.”) and that the world is ending (“I’m not confident that we can stave off the collapse of civilization, though we must make the maximum effort.”)
That latter statement is actually more positive than he was about the fate of humanity in this 2005 The New Yorker profile (a highly recommended read by the way):
“I’m hoping I’ll live another thirty years. I want to see the sea rise over Tokyo and the NTV tower become an island. I’d like to see Manhattan underwater. I’d like to see when the human population plummets and there are no more high-rises, because nobody’s buying them. I’m excited about that.”
The holidays just got a little less jolly for NY animation artists. I’m hearing reports that among the casualties of yesterday’s massive 850-person layoffs at Viacom is the entire Nick Digital Animation Studios division. If word on the street is accurate, they’re shutting down the whole shop; from top to bottom, everybody is out the door. This would be a big blow to the New York animation community: Nick is not only one of the largest animation employers in the city but also the last network animation studio remaining on the East Coast. Among the affected shows are Dora the Explorer, The Backyardigans, Go Diego Go, Bubble Guppies, and the forthcoming Umi Zumi, the latter being the only show animated in-house. No word yet on how they’re going to continue producing these shows or when everybody is getting laid off. Feel free to add details in the comments.
Wednesday morning, a large portion of your community crowded unsuspectingly into conference room 4-110, and were given the news that 1633 Broadway would no longer be the home of the Nick Digital Animation studio.
The crushing blow was that, after a long and difficult deliberation, the Network had made the decision not to rebuild the studio in a new location. After a decade of producing ground-breaking, award-winning pre-school animated television, an Era was given an end date.
The studio itself and the production units, or shows, are two different things. There are four remaining production units on the 4th Floor of 1633. “Dora the Explorer”/”Go, Diego, Go!”, “Backyardigans,” and the yet to premiere “Bubble Guppies,” and “Team Umizoomi.” The former three stay mostly intact and will simply move to other locations. “Team Umizoomi” has a full team that includes Designers, Animators, and Editors. Those are the people who no longer have a Network studio to call home.
But if you’re looking for a villain in all this, you’re not going to find one, at least not on the Network level. In a move that, in my knowledge, is unprecedented, the artists who are being dismissed early are not only being paid through the end dates on their contracts, but are being given severance packages on top based on the years they’ve worked with Nick Animation. It was a classy way to handle it.
Contrary to what most animation histories would lead one to believe, the creative workforce during the Golden Age of animation in the 1930s and 1940s was not comprised entirely of white males. There were also women who worked in creative capacities, as well as artists of different ethnicities, particularly Mexican, Chinese and Japanese. Sadly their contributions have been obscured throughout the years and rarely acknowledged in any meaningful way by our art form’s historians.
The history of Japanese artists is particularly interesting because most of them were interned during WWII. In one of the stupider moments in American history, the US government decided to forcibly remove tens of thousands of Japanese-American citizens from their homes and confine them in internment camps, an action that the government later admittted was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Recently while browsing through this UC Library digital image archive, I stumbled across some rare photos that help to flesh out the story of Japanese-American animation artists.
Next is a photo of Bennie Nobori, who had worked at Disney prior to being interned. I’ve never heard of him but examples of his work from an internment camp newspaper–here and here–reflect a strong Freddie Moore influence.
Other Disney artists who were interned during WWII were veteran animator and writer Bob Kuwahara and Chris Ishii. According to Michael Barrier, Kuwahara was “the first Disney artist whose job was just to draw story sketches.” Kuwahara left Disney in 1937 to go to MGM, which is where he was working when he was taken away by the government. After the war, he moved to NY where, among other things, he created the theatrical cartoon character Hashimoto-san for Terrytoons. Read a short bio written by Kuwahara himself here.
I’ve previously written about about Ishii’s WWII experience on the Brew. In that earlier blogpost, there’s a photo of Ishii working on the camp’s newspaper comic. Below is another photo from December 12, 1942, the day he was inducted into the US military. It has the following caption: “Chris Ishii two years ago worked as an artist for Walt Disney, he tried to join the army but was turned down for slightly flat feet, then his draft board classed him 1-A but before his hopes were realized he was evacuated from California and his new draft number said 4-C, undesirable alien. In the center Chris created, for center newspapers, a cartoon character “Little Neebo”, humorously depicting the trials and tribulations of a little Nisei boy in evacuation centers. Here Chris realizes his deepest ambition as he is finger printed by an army sergeant after having been sworn into the Army of the United States, to be sent to Camp Savage, Minnesota.”
Ishii, who had become an assistant to Ward Kimball in November 1940, went out on stike at Disney in 1941 along with the other Japanese-American artists who worked at the studio including Tom Okamoto, Masao Kawaguchi and James Tanaka. This is a 1943 photo of James Tanaka working at Famous Studios in New York. The caption accompanying his photo says, “James worked for five years in the studios of Walt Disney and secured his present position [at Famous] while at the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arkansas.”
The archive also has a photo of Tom Inada working at Famous. The photo caption says: “He had just finished a commercial art course at the Sacramento Junior College in California when all persons of Japanese ancestry were evacuated from the west coast. He lived for a year at the Tule Lake Relocation Center.”
Below is a 1945 image of Michiko Kataoka (second from left), who had been interned at Manzanar and was attending UCLA at the time of this photo. Judging from her age in the photo and the uniqueness of the name, I’d harbor a guess that she is the artist who went by the name of Michi Kataoka and who worked at UPA as a background painter for a brief period in the early-1950s.
Another female Japanese artist of note, Gyo Fujikawa, who had worked at Disney in the early-1940s, managed to escape internment. This excerpt from her LA Times obituary explains why:
It was Disney who Fujikawa said changed the way she handled bigots during World War II. Unlike her parents and younger brother, she escaped internment because she was living in New York; only Japanese residing on the West Coast were sent to the camps. But Fujikawa traveled frequently, and when people became suspicious of her, she often told them she was really Anna May Wong, the Chinese American actress. According to her nephew, Fujikawa took secret delight in this masquerade.
But when she told Disney that she often lied about her heritage, he exploded. “Damn it! Why should you say that? You’re an American citizen,” he said.
“From that moment on,” Fujikawa recounted recently, “that’s exactly what I did tell them.”
If anybody can add more details about these artists or other Golden Age Japanese artists, please share. It’d be nice to have a comprehensive list available somewhere online.