Virgil “VIP” Partch (1916-1984) is, in my humble opinion, the funniest print cartooniest ever. Besides creating laugh-out-loud-funny work, Partch, who was a former Disney animator, was also an excellent draftsman. Matt Jones has posted some rare cartooning lessons that VIP wrote for the Famous Artists course wherein Partch describes his working process and talks about how he writes and draws his cartoons. There’s some really good tips in here and it’s well worth a read. For more vintage Partch cartoons on the ‘net, check out HERE and HERE.
Typically I prefer to be the one interviewing others instead of being the subject of the interview myself. Simon Sandall of ReadersVoice.com asked for an interview a couple times before I finally agreed, and he’s just posted our email chat on his site. In the interview we discuss my new book CARTOON MODERN, the decline of Western civilization (which is hopefully not related to my new book), the future of 2D animation, and upcoming plans for Cartoon Brew, among other things. The interview is formatted a bit awkwardly where every sentence is its own paragraph, but hopefully you’ll be able to follow along. Big thanks to Simon for asking me to participate. Be sure to check the Readers Voice archives for interviews with some other fine folk like Peter Bagge, Gary Taxali, Ivan Brunetti and Kaz.
Meet my new friend, Dave White. In his commentary published on MSNBC.com today – titled “Talking-animal movies are ruining my life” – he writes about how this year’s animated features are mind-numbingly pointless and stupid (not exactly news there) and then offers Hollywood some wise tips on how to stop producing unwatchable cartoon films. But first, he rants like mad about this year’s films:
Why do “Madagascar” and “The Wild” and “Open Season” and “Flushed Away” all have the same plot? How many domesticated menageries of circle-of-life-defying zoo pals actually find themselves tossed into the wilderness on a regular basis, learning the true meaning of family and home in the process?
Why did you make me sit through “Barnyard,” a movie where a bull with a milk-heavy udder played a guitar and sang Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down?” And why was I expected to take that scene seriously for even one second? Why did that lactating bull’s pals have a rave in the barn, dancing to techno and getting fake-drunk on milk and honey? Was it his milk they were drinking? And why did my four-year-old and nine-year-old nieces willingly walk out of that movie with their mother, unconcerned with how it all ended?
Why did “Doogal” get made? What was it even supposed to be about? Why was Jon Stewart a talking coiled spring?
Why weren’t “Antz” and “A Bug’s Life” enough? Why did we need “Ant Bully” too? Were there not enough ant-centric films on the pop culture landscape? Did all the DVDs of those other two movies turn to dust, creating an aesthetic void?
Why would I rather watch someone get beheaded on the Internet than sit through another one of these stupid, cheap, insulting, corporate toy commercials? When will the eyeball-scorching awfulness end?
Following Keith Lango’s blog post about how clunky CG film production pipelines result in awkward looking features, Brian McEntee sent over some additional thoughts on why animated features look the way they do nowadays. McEntee was the art director of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and CATS DON’T DANCE and production designer of ICE AGE making him well qualified to speak on this topic. With his permission, I’m reprinting Brian’s thoughts below:
Production Design and Art Direction are rarely taken seriously at the studios these days, and this is why statements like “nobody ever saw this all together until it was too late” make me cringe. It is the Art Director/Production Designer’s very job to guide the many parts of an image into one complete whole (and I wish we could dispense with the splitting up of the singular art direction task into Production Designer and Art Director – a big mistake in my book.)
The unfortunate reality is that the position(s) of Art Director and/or Production Designer these days are many times viewed as a perk or promotion, and given to someone the studio or director likes rather than to an individual who demonstrates the proper skill set for the job.
Then there is the “director/auteur” problem: the studios overindulge the Director’s ego and in essence make the visual contributions of the Art Director – who was hired to oversee the visual “direction” – irrelevant. Same problem again with studio brass, who feel the need to “shop” through any and all design drawings in order to pick and choose things they like, rather than allowing the Art Director to develop and produce one cohesive style. This results in movies that resemble rock collections rather than animated worlds.
I have personally been fortunate to have worked with several fine Directors and studios who gladly let me do my job, but such is not always the case, as is all too painfully clear.
Neal Gabler, author of the just-released book WALT DISNEY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION, appeared on NPR’s FRESH AIR yesterday to discuss the book and Walt Disney. The interview, which can be heard HERE, runs a little over thirty minutes.
(Thanks, Jared Chapman)
It’s Halloween and that can mean only one thing…
Today marks the 94th birthday of legendary animator Ollie Johnston, the last surviving member of Disney’s Nine Old Men. Let’s celebrate his amazing life with a few pics.
Johnston (right) with Frank Thomas in the 1930s:
Johnston (seated) with Frank Thomas during the production of SLEEPING BEAUTY:
Ollie’s animated cameo in THE IRON GIANT:
His other cameo in THE INCREDIBLES:
And here’s a nice vacation photo from Ollie’s trip to Hell last year:
Tony Mines, director at UK-based Spite Your Face Productions, has come up with two simple and thought-provoking rules for creating “not rubbish” animation. See if you agree and then discuss on his blog. Tony writes:
When creating animation, for one to produce work which can be defined as ‘not rubbish’, one must observe the following two rules. Failure to observe either one will result in animation which can be rightly identified as ‘rubbish’.
Firstly, one must be in the same room as the animation for which one is responsible. Being in the same building is not sufficient, and being in a different postal district or hemisphere is right out.
Secondly, one must recognise that animation in all its forms concerns the creation of sequential imagery, and therefore consideration and attention must be paid to every frame! This does not mean that one must animate consistently on 1′s – rather, it means that supervision be given to each frame, and that the amount of movement and nature of movement therein, be personally observed and considered. Attention to only key frames, or to key poses, shall equally result in ‘rubbish’ animation.
I saw the above spot for Triaminic on TV yesterday, and while not a classic by any means, I thought it had an appealing cut-out aesthetic. Surprisingly enough, a quick search online reveals that it was directed by Run Wrake, who’s been getting a lot of positive attention recently for his animated short RABBIT. You can view a nice sampling of Wrake’s commercial work, including this Triaminic spot, at his ad rep’s website, BermudaShorts.com.
There’s not much of a question that the above publicity image for SHREK THE THIRD is a graphic travesty. That much is obvious. The real question, however, is, Why? How could something look like this especially when there are hundreds of talented artists working on the film and tens of millions of dollars at their disposal. After seeing the above image, Keith Lango, an experienced CG feature animator, wrote an exceptionally insightful commentary on his blog where he discusses the assembly-line system under which big-budget CG films are created and why he feels this flawed production pipeline is more responsible for these type of images than any individual artist working on the films. Here’s how Lango sets up his piece:
It’s almost like nobody ever saw this all together until it was too late. The thing is, if it was made like 99% of the imagery in big budget CG then most likely nobody did see it until it was too late. The problem is not so much with any single artist. That’s because in all likelihood no single artist is responsible for this. It is assembly line imagery. The flaw is in the system under which this is made.
Imagine taking 10 talented solo singers and asking them to sing the US national anthem to the same instrumental track. But due to scheduling conflicts they have to each perform in solo, not as a group. Oh, and gee, we don’t have everybody’s performance here yet so you’ll need to just do your part the best you know how without hearing the others. Naturally these singers are to going to make it the best national anthem they know how. So they sing and sing, beautiful notes that rise and fall- all creating fabulous solo performances. Now take these 10 solo artist’s performances and mix them together in editing. The overall result would be hideous. There are no background singers, nobody is doing harmony, nobody takes the lead because all take the lead. It’d be like some kind of gladiator battle of voices. The jumble of notes flooding forth would cause ears to bleed.
What sort of top-secret project is talented mad cartoonist Rex Hackelberg developing up in Canada? I don’t know, but the cartoon designs featured in THIS POST on his blog totally blew my mind. The model sheets of the cat and the bespectacled kid – which reminds me of a mini-Ward Kimball – have some of the most exuberant, imaginative and fun poses I’ve seen in a long while. The only thing missing here is some funny loose animation that matches the energy of these model drawings. Let’s hope that’s coming up next.
HAPPY FEET vs. Fred Astaire? Is that really even a contest? It’s a testament to Astaire’s talent that using only a cane as a prop, he can outdance and outentertain $100 million worth of flashy CG effects. Of course, as Canadian animator Colin Giles points out on the above link, it might have helped Warner Bros. if they’d chosen to do a tap-dancing animal cartoon with animals that were anatomically built for tap-dancing.
YouTube user Zak78 has posted a 10-part playlist of Masaaki Yuasa’s fantastic film MIND GAME (2004). As I’ve written before, MIND GAME is an animated feature unlike any other, and while a compressed Flash file is hardly the ideal way to experience the film, it’s one of the only ways since the film hasn’t received any dvd/home video distribution in the US or Europe.
Feeling a little rusty on your Vishnus, Shivas and Ganeshas? Look no further than Pixar animator Sanjay Patel’s new illustrated guide THE LITTLE BOOK OF HINDU DEITIES: FROM THE GODDESS OF WEALTH TO THE SACRED COWS. As some may recall, Patel self-published this book a couple years ago under the title LITTLE INDIA. The book was a hit and now it’s been picked up for mainstream distribution by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Publishing. Patel has expanded the book in scope and size and it’s scheduled for release next week. It’s available on Amazon for $11.20.
(Thanks, Will Kane)