MGM apparently decided that the best way to celebrate Pink Panther’s 40th anniversary was to hire pop illustrator Shag to redesign him so that the character no longer has the slightest suggestion of appeal or charm. If you’re familiar with Shag’s contrived beatnik-tiki-mod-lounge paintings, then his redesign (or perhaps more appropriately, un-design) should be nothing surprising – stiffly and blandly drawn, awkward angularity, no sense of weight, and little flow or rhythm between the shapes. Somehow this utter contempt for draftsmanship, passing under the banner of “style”, translates to “hip” and “cool”. What’s sad is that now corporations are exhibiting the same lack of taste as the individuals who purchase his paintings, and seeking him out to ruin classic cartoon characters. There are countless artists out there with unique styles, and the draftsmanship skills to back it up, who could have re-interpreted the Pink Panther in myriad interesting ways. Instead, Shag’s insipid renderings of the Pink Panther now adorn New York City storefronts, all sorts of print advertising, and the official Pink Panther website. For the record, I’ve never met Shag and have nothing against him personally, but it angers me to see somebody who can barely hold a pencil ruin the legacy of terrific artists like Panther designer Hawley Pratt, animators Ken Harris and Bob Matz, and directors like Gerry Chiniquy, Friz Freleng and Richard Williams.
Mike Barrier has posted the first part of a very long 1972 article about Ralph Bakshi and the production of his first feature FRITZ THE CAT. The piece was originally published in FUNNYWORLD #14. Check out the article at MichaelBarrier.com. An interesting bit of trivia about historical accuracy: while FRITZ THE CAT is recognized as the first X-rated animated feature, it was not the first X-rated piece of animation released theatrically in the US. The 1971 live-action feature THE TELEPHONE BOOK features a lengthy animated sequence, which though explicit is, like FRITZ, fairly tame by today’s standards. The animation was directed and designed by Len Glasser’s NY studio Stars & Stripes Productions Forever, whose outfit also produced some of the funniest and most inventive TV commercials of the Sixties and Seventies.
Tomorrow’s April 1 and that could only mean one thing: the annual Animation Nation meeting in Los Angeles. This year is the sixth edition and it’ll take place at 1:30 pm at the Pickwick Center (1001 Riverside Drive, Burbank, California). Food and beverages will be served and everybody will have a chance to speak and vent about the crappy state of the animation biz. No charge but contributions are welcome. For more details, check out this thread at AnimationNation.com.
Here’s a terrific on-line collection of Cliff Sterrett’s classic comic strip POLLY AND HER PALS. Sterrett’s work is what cartooning is all about – personality, humor and appeal. Not to mention Sterrett has an exquisite sense of storytelling, composition, design and color. It’s an all-in-one cartooning master class well worth studying. The French website that features these comics also has sections on other fine cartoonists like T.S. Sullivant and Lyonel Feininger.
(Thanks to Marc Deckter for the link)
As long as we’re posting examples of inappropriate uses of CG (like the image from the new GARFIELD movie below), here’s a look at the DreamWorks primetime animated series FATHER OF THE PRIDE, which will debut in the fall on NBC.
You can see the full image HERE, which also includes the equally grotesque CG versions of Siegfried and Roy. One thing you have to give Jeffrey Katzenberg credit for is that he always manages to defy everybody’s expectations. Just when you thought a DreamWorks animated project couldn’t become any more unappealing, Katzenberg proves that his lack of visual taste knows no bounds and he produces something like FATHER OF THE PRIDE. I’ll be watching at least one episode of the show, if only to see how DreamWorks could blow a reported $2 million per episode and still end up with a cartoon that looks this sad.
“I’ve always felt that characters should be uncomplicated, then put the complicated things into the animation.” – Grim Natwick
“The mechanics of moving the human figure cannot be isolated from the motivational drives and dramatic meaning of any action, without rendering it empty and useless. It is primarily the emotional content of an action that is of interest to an audience, and the goal of animators must be to express this in graphic motion; not merely to move arms, legs and bodies around in space. At this point it will become possible to deal with ‘realistic subjects’ and make them exciting and believable.” – John Hubley
“A designer knows that he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, THE LITTLE PRINCE
“I believe licensing usually cheapens the original creation. When cartoon characters appear on countless products, the public inevitably grows bored and irritated with them, and the appeal and value of the original work are diminished. Nothing dulls the edge of a new and clever cartoon like saturating the market with it…I don’t want some animation studio giving Hobbes an actor’s voice, and I don’t want some greeting card company using Calvin to wish people a happy anniversary, and I don’t want the issue of Hobbes’s reality settled by a doll manufacturer. When everything fun and magical is turned into something for sale, the strip’s world is diminished. CALVIN AND HOBBES was designed to be a comic strip and that’s all I want it to be. It’s the one place where everything works the way I intend it to.” – Bill Watterson, CALVIN & HOBBES
(Thanks to Nick Cross, Harry McCracken and Jim Korkis for the quotes)
A Michigan man who had gone to see THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE was severely beaten after he shushed a man who wouldn’t stop talking in the row behind him. According to this ARTICLE, “the 51-year-old victim was hospitalized with multiple fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and several facial lacerations that required stitches.” Let this be a lesson to potential shushers: if you’re going to tell an obnoxious moviegoer to shut up, make sure it’s an old granny or little child that you could take on in a fight.
There’s a great discussion going on at the CartoonRetro.com forum about classic Disney animator Fred Moore. The thread includes plenty of drawings by Moore and numerous insights into why his work was so appealing. It’s sad to think that while solid appealing draftsmanship was once the foundation of the animation industry, today it is an anomaly that has to fight its way through the vast sea of ugliness and incompetence that is FAMILY GUY, FAIRLY ODDPARENTS, HOME MOVIES and RUGRATS.
Here’s a nclass=”image”ew book that I’m planning on getting when it comes out next month: DUMB LUCK, a retrospective of the work of illustrator (and TEACHER’S PET creator) Gary Baseman. The book, described as “both an art manifesto and a raw celebration of idiocy”, totals over 300 pages and is the first major compilation of Baseman’s work. The book is being published by Chronicle Books, one of the finest art/pop culture book publishers around. On a side note, while Chronicle hasn’t published many animation books in the past (with the exception of the two terrific ‘art of’ books for MONSTERS INC. and FINDING NEMO), they’re starting to do more of them now. I know because I’m currently writing two animated-related books for them, one of which will be out in early 2005, the other in early 2006. More details to come.
AWN has a nice behind-the-scenes look at the production of Mike Gabriel’s new hand-drawn/digitally rendered animated short LORENZO. The Disney-produced short had been slated to open in front of THE LADYKILLERS but that plan was nixed at the last moment. A source tells me that Disney is trying to place the film in front of another upcoming Touchstone Pictures release.
There was a nice (albeit depressing) piece in yesterday’s LA TIMES looking at how Los Angeles animation artists are struggling to stay financially afloat nowadays and how some of them who can’t secure any cartoon-related work are finding employment elsewhere (like working at Trader Joe’s or opening their own retail stores). The article isn’t available on the TIMES website, but it’s been posted on this ANIMATION NATION thread. Next, BREW reader Brock Gallagher sends over a link to a terrific website that showcases Dr. Seuss’ early political cartoons, many of which were not published in the recent book DR. SEUSS GOES TO WAR. Last but not least, here’s a plug for artist Steven Wintle’s Flat Earth! blog, which offers insightful commentary on both animation and comics. In the past, Steve has been quite complimentary towards both Animation Blast and Cartoon Research, and now he seems to like the Brew as well, so needless to say, he has impeccable taste in cartoons.
Following the stunning 43% “no confidence” vote against his leadership at the annual Disney shareholder’s meeting earlier this month, Warner Books has delayed the June release of a book written by Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The book, CAMP, an account of life lessons that a young Eisner learned while attending a swanky summer camp for rich kids, was to have covered topics like teamwork, showing initiative and listening well. Insert your own ironic comment here.
Shane Glines has posted an interesting historical artifact on his CartoonRetro.com message board – a comic strip from the publication FRIDAY drawn by striking artists during the infamous Disney Studios strike of 1941. I wonder if that’s master animator Bill Tytla in the photo at right?
If they gave Clios for pretentiousness, then United Airlines’ new animated ad campaign would be a shoo-in. I just saw their second of four one-minute TV spots, and this one makes almost as little sense as the first ad that’s been playing all over TV these past few weeks.
The new spot, which has lots of light bulbs in it, is by British animator Joanna Quinn who has also recently created more straightforward and enjoyable animated spots for Charmin toilet paper (with the bears) and Whiskas cat food. All four of the United Airlines ads are set to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and are produced through Acme Filmworks. Like Quinn, the directors of the other spots – Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis (image at right), Michael Dudok De Wit and Aleksandr Petrov – have all been either nominated or won an Oscar for animated short. I’m all in favor of distinctive quality animation in TV commercials and the two United ads I’ve seen so far are pleasing to look at, but the storytelling is unnecessarily confusing, and I still haven’t figured out what message, if any, United is trying to communicate through these spots.
Ward Kimball (1914-2002) was a great animator, but the reason he’s my personal favorite of Disney’s Nine Old Men reaches far beyond his animation work. Peter Adamakos nails it when he writes in this REMEMBRANCE of Kimball, “In a way, it seemed there were Eight Old Men and then there was Ward Kimball.” Ward, like his Old Men counterparts, was a fine draftsman and animator, but it’s his singular sense of humor and subversive imagination that distinguishes him from the pack and for which I appreciate him most. These elements are evident not only in his animation, but throughout his career in the arts. I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend gave me a videotape copy of a Kimball film I’d never seen before, DAD, CAN I BORROW THE CAR?, a 47-minute live-action episode of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY from the early-Seventies. The special does not by any stretch of the imagination qualify as a masterpiece of 20th century American cinema, but it is enjoyable to watch and filled with delightfully silly and inventive bits as only Kimball could conjure.
DAD, CAN I BORROW THE CAR? takes a hackneyed concept: our fascination with cars from the time we’re born through our teen years, and uses it as an excuse for a variety of absurd montages and sequences: a breakneck-paced spoof of used car TV commercials, a musical segment that involves driving an open-top convertible through a car wash, and a sequence about the incredible frustrations of going to the DMV (the California Department of Motor Vehicles is thanked in the credits for their cooperation, although it’s hard to imagine they’d have agreed to participate in this had they been aware of Ward’s intentions). There are also bits and pieces of animation interspersed throughout – a bit of pixellation here, some cut-out there, and an abstract cel animated sequence that follows two speeding paint stripes around a car. There is nothing particularly ambitious animation-wise, probably due to the budgets, but the cartoon pieces are effective and work nicely within the context of the film. The animation is credited to Art Stevens, who was an animator at Disney since the early-Forties and one of Ward’s main animators beginning in the early-Fifties with MELODY and TOOT WHISTLE PLUNK & BOOM. I’m pleased to report that Stevens is among the few legendary Disney animators who is still with us today.
It’s hard to describe the appeal of this film. There are plenty of wry little touches throughout, like when the live-action kid requires his father’s signature on a driving form, a clawed monster hand comes into frame and marks the paper with an “X” or when a newborn baby is slapped at birth by a doctor, the accompanying sound effect is a car horn. Perhaps in the mundaneness of everyday routine, it’s simply inspiring to see a film by somebody whose outlook on life was so drastically different from the vast majority of the populace. Or maybe it’s the brief shot of Ward Kimball eating a toy car. Cartoonists eating cars is not something you see everday.
On behalf of Jerry Beck and myself, Amid Amidi, I’d like to welcome everybody to our new home on the Web, CartoonBrew.com. The news and commentary that was found previously on our own websites, CartoonResearch.com and AnimationBlast.com respectively, will now be housed exclusively at CartoonBrew.com. Our old sites will both remain active and will serve other purposes, but CartoonBrew.com is the page to bookmark for your daily dose of intelligent animation commentary.
Our plans for CartoonBrew do not end with what you see here today. Over the coming months, we’re going to be introducing a number of other features to this site including the addition of guest bloggers. We look forward to having artists and historians from around the industry join us on the Brew to share their own thoughts on the art form of animation.
Please be patient with us as we try to work out the various technical kinks of this site over the coming weeks. If the site is showing up oddly on your browser, please drop me a line at amid(at)animationblast(dot)com with details of what’s wrong. And if anybody is proficient with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), please feel free to offer solutions to any problems that you encounter. Jerry and I welcome and appreciate any such help. Finally, a shout-out to Leslie Cabarga who designed the various Cartoon Brew logos that we’re using on this site. Thanks Leslie!
Enrico Casarosa, talented creator of the comic ADVENTURES OF MIA and a story artist at Pixar, has launched a new on-line graphic novel at Haiku5-7-5.com. His poetic approach to the narrative offers an interesting contrast to the actual story which is about Japanese yakuza gangsters. A new page is posted every two weeks. The comic has a terrific style with most of the art drawn directly into Adobe Photoshop with a Wacom tablet, interspersed with charcoal drawings. Check out more of Enrico’s work at EnricoCasarosa.com.
Here’s a few interesting children’s books I’ve run across recently which feature artwork by animation artists. FLOWER GIRL is illustrated by production designer Harley Jessup (MONSTERS INC, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH), THE ENORMOUS MISTER SCHMUPSLE: AN ABC ADVENTURE is the second children’s book by ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE creator Joe Murray and TURTLE SOUP is the first work from animator Jennifer Cardon Klein (THE IRON GIANT, EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE). Jennifer also produced the recent animated short BOYS NIGHT OUT,which was co-directed by her husband Bert Klein.