Folks in and around the Bay Area should make a point to check out the “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” exhibition which continues at the Cartoon Art Museum in downtown San Francisco through March 18, 2008. DreamWorks story artist Jenny Lerew recently visited the show and offered some perceptive observations about Blair’s work on her blog, including the notion that we shouldn’t allow today’s plethora of second- and third-rate Blair imitators affect our judgement about the quality of her original work. Jenny writes:
“There’s always a lot of talk about the obvious influence of Mary Blair on artists today–so much so, in fact, that it’s led in some circles to a bit of a backlash towards her or towards the stylings of artists who’ve been inspired by her. But when you see these up close and without the filters of photography(either the still camera’s or the animation stand’s)or the limitations of the published page, even now they leap out at the viewer and are as new and fresh as they must have been half a century ago. To see her technique up close is to appreciate how incredibly skilled she was. Intuitive, surely; imaginative and whimsical, yes–but also plain, keen, brilliant, diamond-hard thinking going on. It’s still a big wow.“
Nina Paley’s offbeat indie animated feature Sita Sings The Blues recently was accepted into the prestigious 58th annual Berlin International Film Festival, where it’ll be having its world premiere next month. But as Paley writes on her website, “The bad news is, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s programmed in a theater that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do Digital Cinema. That means unless I have a 35mm print by February, her one and only World Premiere will be on, wellÃ¢â‚¬Â¦video. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let that happen.”
I’ve heard positive words from numerous people who have seen work-in-progress versions of Sita. The film, which Paley started production on in 2004, is uniquely personal, tackling the story of breaking up with her husband in India, combined with an unlikely mashup of Indian mythology and 1920s American jazz. Paley made the film entirely on her own, without a producer or studio backing, and still needs $20k to create a 35mm master. She is accepting tax-deductible donations through this website. It’s a worthy cause for animation fans who have a few extra bucks to spare.
UPDATE: Nina Paley wrote in one of the comments on her blog that everybody who donates will receive a credit in the finished film. But she says that credits will be closed Monday, “since thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the latest I can render everything out from my computer.” So head over and donate now.
The Chicago Spire, a building designed by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, is poised to become North America’s tallest free-standing structure and the world’s tallest all-residential building when it is completed in 2011. When the developers officially unveiled the project last September, their presentation included a slick five-minute animated promo. Pushing far beyond typical animated architectural renderings, the developers enlisted vfx houses Lightstream Pictures and Sony Imageworks to create a feature film-style piece complete with dramatic staging and lighting. A portion of the film can be seen on the building’s website, TheChicagoSpire.com, and a video about the building with a few more animation clips can be seen on YouTube. It just goes to show that there’s no product or idea that can’t benefit from some well conceived animation.
A few random notes on the French animated feature Persepolis:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Upon winning the best animated feature prize from the NY Film Critics Circle, Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi said, “In France, they always call the New York critics tough bastards. So thank you, my bastard friends.” Animation director Michael Sporn responded on his blog, “ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be nice to hear what she might say if she wins an Oscar. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get my vote.”
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced yesterday the nine films which are advancing to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category. Persepolis, which was France’s entry, was snubbed and didn’t even make the shortlist. I’ve been opposed to the Oscar’s Animated Feature Film category from the very beginning for the simple reason that it continues to ghettoize the art form. Academy voters don’t feel compelled to recognize the merits of animation as film when they know that a special category exists solely for animated features. As the art form continues to mature with films like Persepolis, the flaws of the Animated Feature Film category will only become more and more evident.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Whoever said animation isn’t a powerful medium and can’t be used to instigate positive change in society? Chicago’s Daily Herald has an interesting article titled “Local Iranians hope Persepolis will open eyes about their homeland.” Says one Iranian interviewed in the piece, “I think Americans are generally very open-minded, but there isn’t a lot on the news about the people of Iran, just its government. Persepolis shows how important it is to see that a country’s government and its people can be different.”
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The box office numbers for Persepolis are deceivingly tiny. While the film placed 28th on the charts last weekend with $187,000, it is performing remarkably well considering that it is only playing in 18 theaters. In fact, it had the second-highest per-theater average of any film playing last week, behind only Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. If there’s any question why the animated art form is viewed so poorly by the general public, it’s because a film like The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything can open in 1300-plus theaters while an animated feature like Persepolis remains virtually inaccessible to the general moviegoing public. One can only assume that distributor Sony Pictures Classics will move Persepolis from its current platform release into a wider release once the Oscar noms are announced next week.
A winner has been announced in the “Animation Procreation” contest sponsored by Daily Motion and our friends at Animation Magazine. It is called The Sloth Life, It Can Changes. Contest judge Loren Bouchard explains why he chose this short as the winner in this blog post.
As readers of this site may recall, I didn’t offer many kind words for the contest when I posted about it last month. It’s nice that they have a contest winner and I hope the “development deal” works out for the creator, but I still strongly believe that contests with gimmicky prizes like development deals and cash prizes are a cheap and insulting way to encourage new talent in this field.
If companies like DailyMotion and Animation Magazine were serious about helping young creators, they would offer legit production resources to artists, and create opportunities for artists to experiment and develop their artistic voices over a period of time. A fine example to be applauded is the National Film Board of Canada’s Hothouse which is structured in a way that genuinely encourages talent and allows artists the chance to learn about the art form in a professional studio setting.
UPDATE: Regarding the earlier accusation of the ‘plagiarism’ in this short, that is incorrect because the cartoon was produced by the same NYC commercial studio Panoptic that produced the MTV2 commercial. I apologize to the filmmakers for the unnecessary hassle, and I apologize to readers for not fact-checking properly (at least it’s not as bad as the gaffe I made a couple years ago). Below are frame grabs comparing the original Panoptic MTV2 commercial (left) and the Panoptic-produced contest winner (right) which reappropriates the character and animation from their commercial.
“Sorrow of the Soldier” is a one-off animated music video released on the Internet today. The video, which protests the US occupation of Iraq, is a collaboration between a global roster of hip-hop artists from the US, UK, Japan and Europe. The animation by UK artist James Harvey achieves a striking look through mixing an illustrative style with bold graphic symbols, all in black-and-white with well-employed spots of color. The video’s website features multiple remix versionsÃ¢â‚¬”streaming on YouTube and available for hi-res download. Here’s more about the project from its press release:
The track, Ã¢â‚¬ËœSorrow of the SoldierÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ by US Rapper Mark Prysler, tells the story of Lucas, a working-class man who runs out of options in his own life and sees the army as an attractive means of escape. Upon deployment he finds the reality of the Iraq war is far removed from the fantasy sold to him by the Bush administration. The story is an analog for the experiences of many young men and women fighting in Iraq today and the lyrics call for direct action from the government.
Uniquely, the video has been simultaneously released in several different versions, each with a separate audio track by a different global collaborator. Each remix artist was asked to choose a Ã¢â‚¬ËœflavourÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to represent themselves on the website. The standout Ã¢â‚¬ËœmintÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ version features production from HollandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s DJ Donor, who has remixed artists such as Pharrell Williams, while Ã¢â‚¬ËœCheeseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ flavour is remixed by Takashi Otagiri, the president of Tokyo Fun Party, a Japan-based dance music collective. More remixes are to be added to the website over the coming month from hip-hop artists from France, Germany, and both east and west coast America.
Please meet one of the most refreshingly original and funny animated series I’ve run across in a while: Usavich produced by Kanaban Graphics in Japan. The CG animation is funny beyond words, the gags are jam-packed and fresh, and the design is a stunningly distinctive picture-book illustration style. The show’s website Usavich.tv offers 14 of the 26 episodes produced to date, every one of them under two minutes. The entire production is so fun-spirited and well-done, what more can one ask for; I’ve watched all of the available episodes in the past day and still want to see more!
Description is useless for the series. Let’s just say it’s the slightly surreal adventures of an odd couple pair of Russian rabbit inmates who share a jail cell with a frog and a bird. The first season takes place behind bars, the second season follows them on the run in a stolen car. Every episode is solid, and there is a storyline, so it’s best to watch them in order, but two of the most entertaining entries, in my opinion, are this one and this one.
If anybody knows more details about these shorts, please share. The series looks to have some backing by MTV Japan, but there hasn’t been much discussion online about the show so it’s unclear whether it’s new or has been around for a while. I only found out about it the other day on Motionographer. Animator Peter Richardson also posted some praise for the show on his blog. He writes, “[I]t’s tricky to tell which features are in the painted textures and which are shaders and lighting. Perfectly balanced…it goes to show whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s to be gained from a thoughtful and thorough integration of textures and lighting.”
Twenty-two-year-old animation wunderkind David O’Reilly, who we’ve mentioned frequently on Cartoon Brew (here, here and here), was asked to create an original piece of animation for BoingBoing.tv. The resulting piece is a ‘history of animation’ from Disney through John K, and beyond to CG. In a humorous manner, O’Reilly makes a thoughtful point: that CG animation represents a quantum-leap forward in the development of this art form because it offers the possibility for a clear break from traditional reality-rooted styles of animation. Instead of replicating existing worlds, CG offers the chance to create entirely new worlds, an opportunity that few artists have explored to date.
Chris Robinson’s Canadian Animation: Looking for A Place to Happen is one more to add to the list of animation books I’m looking forward to reading in 2008, alongside Stepping into the Picture: Cartoon Designer Maurice Noble and Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. The book will be published in September 2008 by John Libbey Publishing. From the description posted on Chris’s blog, it sounds like an On the Road for the animation set, and if anybody can pull that off, it’s Robinson:
In 2007, writer Chris Robinson traveled across Canada to meet with some of the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leading independent animation filmmakers. Along the way, Robinson muses about the animation art form in Canada and his own relationship to the scene and personalities, many of whom are friends and colleagues. As he travels from place to place he carries along his own private (and sometimes not-so private) struggles with insomnia, depression, identity, cab drivers, hobos and nobos and the shocking murder of animator Helen Hill, whose life and work embody many of the themes that colour these conversations.
With the intimate detail of a diary, Canadian Animation: Looking for a Place to Happen weaves together history, memoir and dream into a mesmerizing and candid portrait of Canadian animation, art, doing, drifting and dying.
Lavishly illustrated, the bookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cast includes award-winning animators Marv Newland (Bambi Meets Godzilla), Chris Landreth (Ryan), Chris Hinton (Nibbles), David Fine (Bob and Margaret, Ricky Sprocket), Wendy Tilby (When the Day Breaks), Anne-Marie Fleming, Torill Kove (The Danish Poet), Claude Cloutier (Sleeping Betty), Janet Perlman (Why Me?) and many more.
Attention UK folk. The Projector animation festival takes place in Dundee, Scotland from January 30 through February 2. I was a guest of the festival during its previous edition in 2006 and I had one of the best times I’ve ever had at an animation festival. It’s an intimate gathering, nothing on the scale of an Annecy or Ottawa, but that is precisely what I enjoyed so much about it. Feisty festival director Susie Wilson manages to always bring together an eclectic group of artists, authors and thinkers, and the low-key setting allows everybody to get to know one another. There are also a couple animation schools in Dundee, which ensures plenty of energetic students at the screenings.
This year’s special guests who will be presenting masterclasses are Phil Mulloy, Bill Plympton, Abi Feijo, Regina Pessoa and Sharon Colman. Other programs include a talk by author Jonathan Clements about the rise of digital animation in Japan, a program of typography in animation and motion graphics curated by Jayne Pilling, and an “Acting for Animators” workshop presented by Ed Hooks. There are also plenty of screenings of recent animated shorts, as well as features including Free Jimmy, Persepolis, Paprika and The Three Musketeers.
A couple tips for festival attendees: For the most enjoyable Projector experience, do not suggest to the festival director that all of Scotland’s castles should be torn down. For that matter, do not suggest this to anybody in Scotland if you value your health and well-being. Also, no trip to Dundee is complete without a late-night session or two at Fat Sams. You’ll just have to take my word for this.
Ticket info and further details are at ProjectorFest.com.
Me, extolling the wonders of Dundee in ’06. Photo by Fiona Barty
UPA theatrical cartoons on the big screen are a rarity nowadays which is why I’m happy to point to an East Coast screening of Mister Magoo shorts this coming Monday, January 14, at the Jacob Burns Film Center (364 Manville Road, Pleasantville, NY). Most intriguingly, the show listing promises NEW prints of Destination Magoo, Pink and Blue Blues, Trouble Indemnity, and When Magoo Flew, along with archival prints of Sloppy Jalopy and MagooÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Cruise. Besides the fact that these cartoons are pretty funny, there is some terrific design, layout and background painting throughout, and it’s all the more striking when seen on the large screen. Screening times are 5:15pm and 7:15pm. More details at the Jacob Burns Film Center website.
(Thanks, Robert Schaad)
I completely forgot to plug the “Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury” exhibit which just closed at the Orange County Museum of Art last weekend. What reminds me to mention it now is that I recently saw the accompanying exhibition catalog, and even though I only managed to flip through it briefly, it looks to be a fetching and attractive coffeetable book.
Not having seen the exhibit, I’m curious to find out how they treated the “Cartoon Modern” look in the context of the larger West Coast contemporary art movement. I do know that the exhibit made some acknowledgment of midcentury animation by displaying shorts like Gerald McBoing Boing, Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, and a Road Runner cartoon by Chuck Jones.
If you didn’t see the show while it was in SoCal, the exhibition continues at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA (February 15-April 13, 2008). Then it’s on to the Oakland Museum of California (May 18-August 17, 2008) and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, TX (February 27-May 31, 2009).
GhibliWorld.com offers a superb in-depth interview with Pixar story artist Enrico Casarosa in which he talks about Hayao Miyazaki’s influence on his work. Of particular interest is the insightful passage in which Enrico contrasts the ways in which Pixar and Ghibli tell their stories. An excerpt:
“Well, as I was just saying, the process [at Pixar] is very much one of doing and redoing, making things better step by step. It involves a willingness to pick apart the movie and its themes. This constant editing and refining can be frustrating at times. The huge difference is that at Ghibli storyboards are done by the director and they are followed without exception. So you find a very different way of doing things there, the studio and its artists are following the leaderÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vision without deliberation, editing or feedback necessary. Incidentally it sounds like Suzuki-san might be the only person at Ghibli able to have a discussion with Miyazaki-san regarding the story or characters of the movie theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re producing. In this setting though Miyazaki is free to go on his own journey finding the movie he wants to tell, bit by bit. The result are stories that are more fully personal and hold an authenticity and uniqueness which is close to impossible to achieve in the US, where a story, in the best case scenario, is well crafted by several gifted people while in the worse case scenario is made by committee. I think thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what is great about many projects coming from Japan, with their own merits or faults, they possess an unwavering will to stick to their directorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vision. The stories are allowed to be more idiosyncratic that way and that is what I personally find inspiring and refreshing.”
Director Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch) has launched a new comic strip on his blog called Kiskaloo. He plans to offer a new strip every Monday. In what appears to be an “F.U.” to Disney, the title character of Sanders’s comic strip bears a striking resemblance to some of the development art he created for American Dog, a film he originated and then was unceremoniously
fired removed from in December 2006.