Tony Mines of Spite Your Face Productions sent me a note about an early-1960s British animated series, The Pingwings, which had been considered lost for the last forty years. The prints were recently found again and a small label in the UK has released the entire series onto dvd. I asked Tony if he could shed a bit more light on this stop-mo series. Here’s what he says:
Pingwings is, so far as I can gather, the very first production by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s Small Films. The pair would go on to create pre-school classics like The Clangers, Bagpuss and Noggin the Nog that generations of British children and parents have grown up with. I mention it because while the latter are household names over here, Pingwings is almost completely unknown. Which is criminal, because it’s amazing.
Demonstrating a gleeful disregard for the shortcomings of filming stop-motion out of doors, the show concerns the adventures of a family of wooly penguins that live in a farmyard. Even the most famous of Small Films work is notoriously low-tech, but here you can see how they started out, working literally out of a barn.
Shown only once in the UK, the series was thought lost until recently, and has now been released on DVD, under a small label here. You don’t even seem to be able to get it on Amazon. The DVD contains all three series of 6×5(ish) minutes episodes.
One of the greatest thing about it is to watch how everyone involved develops over the three series. Not only do the Pingwings themselves grow a little older as the show progresses, but story elements and new characters come into play that you can see were developed and reused in later series, notably Bagpuss and The Clangers. In that sense, it forms the blue print for a whole generation of programming.
Shane Glines of the indispensable Cartoon Retro has sent over a fascinating 1935 article, titled “Hollywood’s Men of Action,” from Everyweek Magazine, a Sunday newspaper supplement. The Depression-era piece plays up the high salaries possible by working in animation.
There’s some interesting things about the article. For one, it has the only photo I’ve ever seen of Lantz animator LaVerne Harding. (I think the male animator at top is Norm Ferguson; does anybody know for sure.) Also curious, it mentions Flintstones designer Ed Benedict as one of the top Lantz animators. This was still relatively early in his career so it’s interesting that he got top billing over more experienced Lantz animators like Bill Nolan.
Of particular note is this section where Walt Disney explains why women don’t make good animators:
Ordinarily Disney keeps from 30 to 40 men in his apprentice room. The apprenticeship lasts from six months to a year.
As a rule this class is composed entirely of young men. Seldom is a girl found among them. For some inexplainable reason, women don’t make good animators. At the present time there is only one in the entire businessÃ¢â‚¬”Verne Harding who works on Oswald at Universal.
“I don’t know why girls should be poor animators but they are,” Disney declares. “Very frequently they are better artists than men but for some reason they lack the knack of getting smooth action into their drawings.”
This quote from Walt is also amusing:
“I’ve often been told how lucky I am not to have any stars to go temperamental on me,” Disney remarks. “It’s true I never have any trouble with Mickey, the three pigs or any of my characters. But don’t ever think animators can’t be temperamental. Say, they can be just as bad as any star you ever saw.
“Occasionally one will have an off day on which he can’t draw anything worth while. Then he has to be pampered and pulled out of his slump with all the diplomacy that would be used on a star.”
CONTEST OVER! I thought it was a fairly difficult question but obviously not for Brew readers. Before I could even get to my computer, over a dozen readers had responded correctly. The first two correct answers, and thus the winners, are Jennifer Klein and Joe Apel.
Winners will be the first two people to correctly post a response in the COMMENTS section to the following question:
Two of the book’s artists, Scott Morse and Lou Romano, have the distinction of receiving art training from which famous Warner Bros. layout artist/background designer, and what are the contemporary artists trained by this Golden Age legend collectively known as?
(Note: Folks who have already won something from Cartoon Brew in the past year or two are ineligible for this contest.)
When the CIA isn’t busy destabilizing other countries, they apparently like to help animation studios create cartoons. At least that’s the premise of an interesting new animation book I just found out about from FPS Magazine. The book, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, is Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm by Daniel J. Leab. It takes an in-depth look at the making of Halas & Batchelor’s Animal Farm, the first feature-length British animated film, and the CIA’s influence (and interference) during the production of that film. From the book’s description:
Recently, a number of works have been written–notably, those by Frances Stoner Saunders and Tony Shaw–that make reference to the underlying governmental control surrounding Animal Farm. Yet there is still much speculation and confusion as to the depth of the CIA’s interference. Leab continues where these authors left off, exploring the CIA’s dominant hand through extensive research and by giving fascinating details of the agency’s overt and subtle influences on the making of the film.
Leab’s thorough investigating makes use of sources that have been excluded in past accounts, such as CIA papers retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act and material from the Orwell Archive. He also incorporates the testimonials of animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor and, most significantly, the previously unexplored archive documents of Animal Farm producer Louis de Rochemont.
The book has a hefty $55 price tag, but FPS says that there’s a 20% discount if you call 1-800-326-9180 and mention the code OSRC. I should also point out that, though the topic sounds fascinating, it’s hard to recommend this title without having seen it. The author’s clumsy use of the word “filming” in the title immediately raises a question in my mind about how accurate his technical understanding of the animation process is. To be fair though, the book seems to focus more on the political intrigue surrounding the film’s development than the actual production process.
If there’s one question I’ve received more frequently than any other since the release of Cartoon Modern, it’s “Where can I see the UPA films?” There’s a lot of Golden Age animation being released onto dvd this year (Droopy, Popeye, Lantz cartoons, Tom and Jerry, etc.) but the catalog of classic cartoons produced by United Productions of America (UPA) during the 1950s remains completely off the radar. The studio produced just over ninety shorts and these films have not enjoyed a major release since a series of VHS tapes released the late-’80s.
It’s depressing that the only suggestion I can offer to folks looking for these films is to search for twenty-year-old out of print VHS tapes. I think it’s about time that Columbia pulled together a decent box set of all of the studio’s shorts, a package that gives us the classic characters (Gerald McBoing Boing, Mister Magoo, the Fox and Crow) along with the studio’s groundbreaking one-shot shorts (The Unicorn in the Garden, The Tell-Tale Heart, Rooty Toot Toot, The Jaywalker and Madeline). Until then, you can find some of the UPA shorts on video sharing sites. I’ve included links to all the ones I could find below, though unfortunately, if there’s one animation studio whose work doesn’t deserve to be seen in this crummy compressed Flash format, it’s the graphically intensive filmmaking of UPA.
A few weeeks ago, I posted a few pages of Bruce Timm storyboards from The New Adventures of Beany and Cecil (1988). I also said if any reader wanted to scan in the entire set of Timm storyboards from this episode and share them with the online community, I’d be happy to send over my copies. Brew reader Micah Baker took me up on the offer and has generously scanned the boards for everybody. He’s posted the entire storyboard set onto Flickr. Also, another reader has posted the finished episode onto YouTube so if you’re curious to see how Timm’s work was adapted to film, compare his boards to the cartoon below.
After a bit of an unexpected lag, we’ve debuted our latest film on CartoonBrewFilms: Safety Shoes (1965) directed and designed by Leonard Glasser. This film is part of our Rarities section and it is truly worthy of that distinction as it has rarely been seen since the early-’70s. It was commissioned by the Lehigh Safety Shoe Co. after the company’s first film about safety footwear flopped with audiences. Glasser decided that the only way to make a film about shoes watchable was to turn it into a loony non-narrative assortment of animated bits and live-action skits.
Working with a barebones budget but plenty of animation and acting talent, Glasser and his studio Stars and Stripes Productions Forever, turned out Safety Shoes which ranks as one of the most off-the-wall screwball advertising films in history. Preview clip, film history and purchase link can all be found here. And after you see the film be sure and submit questions; Len would love to hear from you.
As a sidenote, we’re going to be adding loads of new content to CartoonBrewFilms over the upcoming summer months with new films planned for every week. Some of our upcoming releases include Chansoo Kim’s Vaudeville (US), Eddie White and James Calvert’s Carnivore Reflux (Australia) and Joost van den Bosch and Erik Verkerk’s The Shoebox (The Netherlands). We’ll be posting a more complete release schedule on BrewFilms soon.
Quick Stop Entertainment has a lengthy interview with Bloom County and Opus creator Berkeley Breathed. Breathed talks about the earlier troubled adaptations of his comics to animation, his current work with Robert Zemeckis to adapt one of his children’s books into a mo-cap feature (“just to annoy the animation community”), and his thoughts on the recent Calvin & Hobbesstudent film (“Bill [Watterson] is going to have a cow when he sees this. Not that it isn’t terrific. I think it’s like how we’d feel finding our wives naked on YouTubeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ no matter how hot they look.”)
This essay by Troy Steele is surprisingly insightful, managing to seamlessly weave together a discussion of gender politics in the movie industry, the live-action films of Jane Campion, and the Ren & Stimpy: APC episode “Naked Beach Frenzy,” about which Steele writes:
Kricfalusi’s sexism is so innocent, so reverent of a sex he clearly doesn’t even begin to comprehend. The inclusion of a grotesquely hirsute male lifeguard only helps to make the women look that much better in comparison. Kricfalusi clearly doesn’t understand women beyond objectification, but at least that pedestal he’s putting an entire sex upon isn’t one of dour victimhood and sour grapes.
WFMU’S Beware of the Blog tells you more than you could ever want to know about one of my favorite voice actors of all time: Bill Thompson, the voice of Droopy. Interesting factoids abound including that Thompson was originally cast as the voice of Fred Flintstone, and that he left show business in the early-’60s to become a business executive at Union Oil.
Interview with the boss’s son: Animation Magazine interviews Laika animator Travis Knight, who also happens to be the son of Laika owner and Nike founder Phil Knight. I’ve heard many positive things from stop-mo folk about Travis’s animation skills, and it’s clear that Laika is embracing more interesting and promising projects than when the studio was Vinton’s, so I tend to be cautiously optimistic about Laika’s future. (via Ward-O-Matic)
And finally, the LA Daily News looks at what happens to CalArts students after they graduate with their $120k chararacter animation degrees.
The last surviving member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ollie Johnston, has moved to Oregon, and this past weekend, there was a quietly advertised estate sale at his La Canada home. I didn’t attend, but animator Mark Kausler (It’s the Cat) has a lengthy report on his blog (yes, he’s finally blogging!!) along with photos from the sale. DreamWorks animator Donnachada Daly also checked it out and shares a few of his purchases on his blog. Other folks on message boardsÃ¢â‚¬”here and hereÃ¢â‚¬”are also posting items they purchased.
Now Hear This is without doubt one of the weirder (and more difficult to find) WB shorts that Chuck Jones ever made, but it’s a nice reminder that even after twenty-five years of directing shorts, Jones was still open to experimentation and able to have fun with his chosen medium of expression. Credits include co-direction by Maurice Noble, sound effects by Treg Brown, and a co-writing credit between Jones and John Dunn, who I’m sure you’re all familiar with from the recent Animation Blast #9.
Australian cartoonist Elliot Cowan recently discovered that he could receive Cartoon Network on his digital cable. After watching it, he created a visual document (posted below) of his virgin CN viewing experience. It’s a brilliant piece of editorial illustration that perfectly sums up the vast majority of children’s TV animation being produced nowadays. Elliot’s brief comments accompanying this piece can be read on his blog.
The 14th edition of SketchCrawl takes place this Saturday, May 19. For those who don’t know, SketchCrawl was an idea started by Pixar story artist Enrico Casarosa a few years ago. The idea is beautiful in its simplicity: whereever you live, pull out your sketchbook and spend the day walking around town, observing and sketching. You can sketch alone or band together with other artists who organize in various cities on the SketchCrawl forums.
This weekend’s edition of SketchCrawl also has a charitable component. Throughout the weekend, artists who are sketching will also be raising money for the relief organization Emergency. Additionally, on Sunday, May 20, from 5-9pm, there will be a silent art auction at Maverix Studios in San Francisco (1717 17th Street) with proceeds going to Emergency. The impressive list of auction contributors includes Glen Murakami, Tadahiro Uesugi, Ronnie del Carmen, Peter de Seve, Scott Morse, Sam Hiti, Steve Purcell, Dice Tsutsumi, Bill Presing, Ed Bell, Andrea Blasich, Alexandra Boiger, Jamie Baker and Ted Mathot, to name but a few. A preview gallery with some of the artwork can be seen here.
Last week I checked out the CalArts Producers’ Show, the year-end screening where the best student films from the school year are screened theatrically. I hadn’t been to the show in three or four years so it was nice to see things with a bit of a fresh eye. Sad to say, but the overhwelming impression I got from this year’s batch of films is that CalArts is increasingly a school that is coasting along on its reputation than on the quality of work its current students produce. That hard-earned rep will expire sooner than later if they continue in this direction; CalArts needs to recognize that they no longer have a monopoly on teaching character animation and must significantly up their game if they wish to stay on a par with all the other animation schools around the globe. I’ll attempt to expound on the school’s problems in-depth at some later time, but for the moment, I wanted to focus on some of the positive individual achievements from this year’s crop of students.
A number of this year’s CalArts student films are turning up online and I’ve posted four of the better ones belowÃ¢â‚¬”Off the Wall, Siren’s Melody, One Last Song and This World.
Among the films that aren’t posted online, a few honorable mentions: Them Their Eyes by Mario Furmanczyk featured the most competent Disney-style character animation, Captain Scratchy Beard by Brigette Barrager offered the most distinctive sense of character design, Slum Noir by Jahmad Rollins stood out for its mature storytelling vision, exciting animation and hardcore draftsmanship skills (I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his future work), and Nicole Mitchell’s Zoologic was easily the strongest overall film, and one of the few shorts in the program that displayed a solid understanding of how to stage a gag, pace a story, and give the audience a payoff.
Off the Wall Episode 1: “Lady Troubles” by Alex Hirsch
Don’t know if you’ve heard but CalArts is finally catching up with the times and renaming itself the California Institute of Motion Capture. Glen Keane and James Baxter are involved in the new school too. Check it out.
PS: This was the opening intro at last week’s CalArts Producers’ Show and it got more laughs than just about anything else shown that evening.
Brew reader Dave Stuckey has uploaded yet another crazy rare Ward Kimball clip: a Firehouse Five Plus Two performance from the MGM film Grounds for Marriage (1951). Just try to keep your toes from tapping, I dare ya. The cheesy acting inbetween the FF+2 comes courtesy of Van Johnson and Kathryn Grayson. Thanks Dave!