I was bummed when animation artist Chris Ishii passed away in 2001 because I’d had his phone number on my desktop for quite a while and had been meaning to call him for an interview. Ishii was born in Fresno, California in 1919 and had attended Chouinard Art Institute before being hired at Disney in 1940. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was among the tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to internment camps. (Scooby-Doo designer Iwao Takamoto, who recently passed away, was also among those interned. He described his experiences in this interview I did with him.) Ishii was sent to the Granada internment camp in Amache, Colorado.
After nearly a year of being in the camp, Ishii was accepted into the US Army in December 1942 (photo of his enlistment here). His IMDB bio says that he “served in the Military Intelligence Service as an illustrator for the Office of War Information, assigned to the India/China/Burma theater of war. He met and married his wife, Ada Suffiad in Shanghai, bringing her to the U.S. with him at demobilization.” In the 1950s, Ishii moved to the East Coast and worked at a number of NY commercial studios including Tempo and Shamus Culhane Productions. He joined UPA-NY around 1954 as a designer and layout artist. Afer Gene Deitch left the studio, Ishii (along with Jack Goodfood) assumed the role of UPA-NY’s artistic supervisor. He continued working in commercial animation during the 1960s and ’70s, partnering to form his own studio, Focus Productions, and directing the animated sequence in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, among many other projects.
The reason I bring all this up is that I recently found online some examples of Ishii’s “Lil’ Neebo” comic strip. He created the characterÃ¢â‚¬”a Japanese-American boy who is internedÃ¢â‚¬”for the Granada camp’s newspaper Granada Pioneer. The character was also drawn for the paper by other interned artists, as well as used in puppet shows at the camps. The drawing in these strips is relatively crude as it was still early in Ishii’s artistic career, but the Disney influence is certainly evident, and the unfortunate circumstances under which they were created gives them plenty of historical significance.
(Thanks to Carol Coates for finding the Ishii photo. Click on the images below for bigger versions.)
The Wizzard of Krudd is a Nick pilot created last year by Greg Miller (Whatever Happened To Robot Jones?) and Mike Stern. Nick recently passed on the idea so this weekend they posted the pilot onto YouTube. Looking at the credits, it looks like Miller and Stern had a creative hand in every aspect of the cartoon. (Dan Krall also provided some layout design.) I’m not entirely convinced of the concept, but they’ve set up an idea with plenty of visual potential, and their strong vision and execution helps Krudd stand out from the majority of pilots I’ve seen recently. Check it out below and see what you think.
It turns out that John Kricfalusi isn’t the only TV animation creator who is vocal about his dislike of contemporary animation execs. Doug TenNapel, the creator of three animated seriesÃ¢â‚¬”Earthworm Jim, Project G.E.E.K.E.R. and Catscratch, offered this amusing insight on how to become an animation executive in this interview from a couple years ago:
Executives usually get in through “development.” They can be receptionists, P.A.’s lawyers, Literature majors and they end up being good at anything but writing, directing, acting or drawing. They have excellent social skills and could use a business background.
I’m still waiting for PES to produce a piece of animation that disappoints me. Hasn’t happened yet. PES has the uncanny ability to take simple why-didn’t-I-think-of-that concepts and execute them flawlessly. His newest spot for Sneaux Shoes is called “Human Skateboard” and it’s an inspired bit of fun. Watch it here.
Canadian animation legend Ryan Larkin passed away on February 14 from brain cancer. Larkin directed and animated the 1969 Oscar-nominated short Walking, as well as Syrinx (1965), Cityscape (1966) and Street Musique (1972). The news of Larkin’s passing comes from Ottawa International Animation Festival artistic director Chris Robinson who heard the news from Chris Landreth, director of the Oscar-winning short Ryan (2004), which documented Larkin’s amazing art and troubled life. Larkin had recently been making a comeback into the animation world; his most recent piecesÃ¢â‚¬”a series of three interstitialsÃ¢â‚¬”had appeared on MTV Canada in December 2006. Ryan’s official website is RyanBango.com.
Here are a few more details about Larkin’s passing from an email written by his longtime friend, Felicity Fanjoy:
Ryan departed this life on Valentine’s Day around eleven o’clock in the evening. He died in the palliative care unit of the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St. Hyacinthe QC of lung cancer that had spread to the brain.
Before slipping into unconsciousness at the beginning of this week, his last words to Laurie Gordon (his guardian angel who, along with her family, have encouraged, supported and helped Ryan in every way possible in the last couple of years) were: ‘I’m happy. I’m okay. I like it here.’ A few days earlier he also said, ‘I just want to rest and rest and rest and rest and rest until the end of my days.’ And that is what he did.
Pixar animators Adam Burke and Andrew Gordon of the Spline Doctors blog have posted a terrific 53-minute podcast interview with Brad Bird. Bird covers a lot of his personal history (not many who can lay claim to being mentored by Milt Kahl as a teen) and offers sound advice throughout (story! story! story!). Makes for inspiring weekend listening. Here’s a few choice thoughts from Brad:
So we often hear about the comeback of 2d animation. Do you think 2D has to change in order to be successful again?
Brad Bird: Yeah, I think they have to tell good stories. I think that’s a radical change.
Can you give any advice to aspiring students and animators about staying fresh and original?
Brad Bird: Don’t just look at animation. Look at everything else. Look at your own life. Feed other things into the medium of animation. Observe plays, paintings, TV shows that you like, poems, the girl that broke your heart two years ago, the car accident you almost had. Bring it all into the medium and the medium will stay as alive as it needs to be. To animate means to give the appearance of life, and you can’t create the illusion of life if you haven’t lived one.
And when Brad talks about quality television, he cites The Wire as an example. Perfect!
Kevin Langley found this vintage clip online in which Walter Lantz describes the duties of a cartoon director at his studio. It’s nice to hear Lantz stress one of the fundamental concepts of how cartoon animation is properly produced: “Both the writer and the director have to be artists because we draw stories instead of writing them.”
Mark Evanier posted this Tex Avery-directed Raid commercial on his blog and I couldn’t resist linking to it as well. At the risk of offending pretty much everybody I know, let me say that I could watch hours of every single current animated series on CN, Nick and Disney, and not find five seconds of cartoon animation as beautifully executed as the animation in this spot. From the second these characters appear on the screen, everything about them exudes personalityÃ¢â‚¬”their posing, distinct styles of movement, and little bits of personality animation, like the big bug scratching himself or the little bug readjusting his cap. The movement is timed funny, and their designs have appealing contrasting shapes (look at the big bug’s lumpy body, gangly arms and couple-sizes-too-small jacket).
What’s amusing is that this Raid spot is not what anybody would ever consider a classic piece of animation. It was probably knocked out by Avery and a couple freelance animators in a few weeks, and viewed by them as little more than a job. But boy, do their years of experience show. The guys who animated in the Golden Age had nailed the art of funny cartoon animation down to a science. Today, even with plenty of animation being produced in the States again thanks to Flash, there are few animators pushing themselves to elevate cartoon animation to this prior level of excellence. Everything I see in the mainstream is generic and blandly animatedÃ¢â‚¬”as long as it moves across the screen, it’s good enough. It saddens me to look at what we had before, and how funny and entertaining even an inconsequential bit of animation like this Raid spot could be.
Twitch Film is reporting that the Weinstein Company has picked up Michel Ocelot’s French feature Azur and Asmar for distribution. As we’ve reported earlier, the fledgling Weinstein Co. has not had a particularly inspiring track record with animated films. Ocelot’s film, which premiered at Cannes last year to ravereviews, is the Weinstein’s first decent pick-up. There’s reason to fear though: among other adult touches, Azur and Asmar features a woman breastfeeding her children and has unsubtitled sequences with characters speaking Arabic. Knowing the amount of respect that the Weinsteins have for the animation art, a good probability exists that there’ll be substantial changes to Ocelot’s vision before the film reaches American audiences. I’d love to be proven wrong on this one.
Brazilian Marcelo Garcia who runs the studio Molho is responsible for this striking experimental piece for the Brazilian music festival Virtuosi. Garcia acted as one-man band on the project handling direction, design, animation and compositing.
I doubt I could make up something as good as this even on April Fool’s. On Monday, Disney announced that they’re producing “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” as a live-action feature starring Nicholas Cage as the Sorcerer. To be clear, the film is based on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s original poem, not the Mickey Mouse sequence in Fantasia. From the Hollywood Reporter: “‘Sorcerer’ is being envisioned as a tentpole fantasy adventure set in contemporary New York, where a powerful sorcerer is in need of an apprentice. While not based on a ride like the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films, the in-development project continues Disney’s trend of reimagining classic Disney titles as live-action, event pictures.”
Nick Cross has released a limited edition dvd of his wonderful 12-minute animated short The Waif of Persephone. The dvd, which includes extras like director commentary, story reel and pencil tests, is available through Nick’s blog for $13.99 (via Paypal or money order) and includes free shipping. I’ve already plunked down my money, and anybody else who wants to support some independent, uncompromising cartoony goodness would be well advised to do the same. Nick has also posted a clip from the film on his blog.
To take a break from his day job as a CG animator at Nexus Productions, Brew reader Ben Cowell created a stop-motion music video for the The Schla La Las animated entirely with Lego. The video, which has a lighthearted lo-fi charm, can be viewed here. Ben has also posted a making of page.
Spurred on by my recent posts criticizing Cuppa Coffee’s Zootube contest (here and here), animation artist Keith Lango has written some general thoughts about understanding the value of your creative properties. Using his own experiences as an example, Lango stresses one key pointÃ¢â‚¬””donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ever, ever, ever give away rights to your work blindly, without condition and without real value in return. Rights have great value.”
In his post, Keith also uses the boys at JibJab as examples of artists who understand and practice good business. I love how JibJab’s Evan Spiridellis responds in the comments section that they’re not really doing anything revolutionary; in fact, Evan writes, “The case for retaining your rights goes straight back to Walt. If people are unaware of the Oswald fiasco they should read their animation history.”