HALAS AND BATCHELOR CARTOONS: AN ANIMATED HISTORY is a new coffeetable book coming out in August that is “part-history, part-tribute, part-critical analysis of the Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Studio,” a studio that existed in Britain for over fifty years (1940-1995). The studio was most famously responsible for ANIMAL FARM, the first British full-length animated feature, but they produced hundreds of other quality films, commercials and TV series as well. The book is co-written by animation scholar Paul Wells and Vivien Halas, daughter of studio founders John Halas and Joy Batchelor. According to the book’s press release, additional insights are offered by John Canemaker, Giannalberto Bendazzi and Richard Hollis. The book seems to only be available for pre-order at Amazon UK at the moment, but hopefully it’ll receive some US distribution as well. After this, I hope somebody will write a book about Britain’s other great animation outfit – W.M. Larkins Studio. Now there’s a studio that has received virtually no recognition in history books, even though they produced unbelievably cool films and commercials from the 1940s-1960s, and had a roster of superb artists working there including Peter Sachs, Philip Stapp, Bob Godfrey and Richard Taylor.
A bit of a follow-up to all the recent posts about Disney insignia from WWII (here and here). There is currently an exhibition at the National Museum of the United States Air Force (Dayton, Ohio) called “Disney Pins on Wings.” The show, which runs through June 11, is apparently the “largest collection of original Walt Disney insignia artwork ever placed on public display.” If you’re not planning on visiting Dayton anytime soon – and as somebody who’s been there, I’d question why anybody would want to – fear not. Here’s a comprehensive set of photos from the exhibition for your online viewing pleasure.
The Donald Duck insignia above was drawn by animator John Sibley. This is actually a piece of art intended for Pete Docter’s amazing piece about Sibley in the upcoming ANIMATON BLAST #9. I couldn’t fit it into the issue, but this seems like an appropriate occasion to share the artwork.(Thanks, Jennifer Cardon Klein, for letting me know about the exhibition and photos)
This FORTUNE magazine interview with John Lasseter is a good read. The piece has the most extensive comments I’ve seen from Lasseter regarding the Pixar/Disney negotiations. There’s also some other good stories where Lasseter describes his experience on BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER and also explains the sure-fire sign that you’ve made a poor family film.(Thanks, Jamie Badminton)
Here’s the latest on ANIMATION BLAST #9. I spoke to my Canadian printer yesterday, and he says if everything goes according to plan, they’ll have the issue printed and bound by the week of June 5-9. It’ll be immediately shipped to LA, which means I should be receiving them the week of June 12-16. And then I’ll ship them out, which means you should be getting them by the end of June. If you haven’t pre-ordered yet, the issue will also be available at the San Diego Comic-Con. More details about that in a bit.
PS – If you’ve sent me an email anytime in the past three weeks, chances are you haven’t received a response. I’ll try to respond to everybody by this weekend.
My favorite anime critic, Ben Ettinger, recently wrote a piece about the long-running Japanese animated series CRAYON SHIN-CHAN and how since its debut in 1992, the animators’ styles have evolved and become more distinct and personal. Initially, the show remained faithful to the comic that it was based on, which from what I’ve seen is rather poorly drawn, but within a couple seasons the animators were pushing the look of the show into a more experimental (and even abstract) direction. Check out the revealing stills above – left is from a 1992 episode, right is from 1996. (Ben’s article also includes links to video clips.)
What strikes me as fascinating about this stylistic evolution is that it’s the complete opposite of the tendencies of US series. Here, the drawing in shows – most shows, at least – tightens up with every passing season, exemplified most clearly (and sadly) in America’s longest running animated series THE SIMPSONS, which hasn’t had an original character expression or bit of movement in well over a decade.
SIMPSONS producers, quite unbelievably, pride themselves on putting out a show that doesn’t exhibit stylistic evolution – and they certainly wouldn’t stand for anything that showed personal creativity or the sign of an individual’s hand in the production. Imagine a record label that asks a musician to compose one song and then replay that song for the rest of his career. No self-respecting musician would ever agee. But on the SIMPSONS, machine-like repetition of style is the order of the day. If a layout artist on the SIMPSONS draws ‘off-model,’ that’s viewed without question as an error, never as a creative choice on the part of the artist. It wasn’t always like that. THE SIMPSONS allowed artists some extent of creative feedom for quite a few seasons, especially during its earliest Klasky Csupo years, and also in some of the subsequent Film Roman seasons. By season six or seven, however, the producers had clamped down and decided that the show was going to exclusively be a platform for smug writing and dialogue, not for anything resembling art or animation. It’s refreshing to find that in Japan, certain animated shows still allow for artists to be a creative partner in the production of the series. Animation producers in the US could stand to learn from this and recognize that letting artists grow with a show can only be something positive.
Disney has released the second full-length trailer for Pixar’s CARS. The animation looks much more appealing than earlier footage, but the trailer gives away too much of the story and leaves me wishing I hadn’t watched it. View it at your own risk.
A roundup of recent non-animation books that have caught my attention:
I don’t know how Lane Smith does it, but every one of his illustrated books is a gem. His latest, JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE AND BEN, is a quirky take on America’s founding fathers portrayed as kids. Compared to the crass manufactured cartoons that children are regularly exposed to on television, the level of thought, care and craftsmanship that Lane puts into his books is a real breath of fresh air. It makes me wonder, Will kids even notice the original painted portraits of the founding fathers that lead off each section, or the inventive manner that Lane combines his illustrations with rich textures and collage elements? There’s no question that artists love this stuff (for example, see these comments by designer Cameron Moll), but I’d also like to think that kids will appreciate and subconsciously absorb all the good design in this book. One thing is for sure, children will be laughing (just as I was) because the book does a terrific job of humanizing historical figures like Paul Revere and Ben Franklin and making them appealing. Here’s an interview with Lane Smith where he discusses some of the visual ideas in the book.
HE DONE HER WRONG, Milt Gross’s 1930 graphic novel (no, graphic novels weren’t invented by Will Eisner), is finally back in print. I haven’t seen this new edition, but I’ve seen the book and it’s packed with typically great Gross art. I’m planning on picking up a copy soon. And when are we going to see a Milt Gross biography/coffeetable book? Talk about long overdue books.
One of my favorite artist blog discoveries has been the work of German animation artist Uwe Heidschoetter. He uses all sorts of unconventional shapes in his figurative drawings and has a distinctive style all his own. I was excited to see that he recently announced a forthcoming 40-page hardcover sketchbook. Sounds good to me.
THE WORLD ON SUNDAY: GRAPHIC ART IN JOSEPH PULITZER’S NEWSPAPER (1898-1911) by Nicholson Baker and Margaret Brentano is a collection of extremely rare turn-of-the-(last)-century artwork that appeared in New York’s SUNDAY WORLD paper. The book has work by well-known comic artists like Outcault, Herriman, and McManus, as well as plenty of lesser known illustrators. I don’t have the book, but I’m considering buying it after reading reviews like THIS and THIS.
Cartoon Brew reader Chris Olson, who sent in the fantastic ‘making of’ PINOCCHIO article a few weeks back, recently sent over a couple other rare articles from his personal collection. Both pieces were published in the WWII-era magazine FLYING AND POPULAR AVIATION. The article “Insignia Industry” was published in the April 1942 issue, and the article titled “Walt Disney’s Animated War” was published in the March 1945 issue. On a related note, if anybody is curious to see more of the Disney character insignia, there was a good book published in the early-90s (now out-of-print) called DISNEY DONS DOGTAGS which reprinted hundreds of the insignia in color.
OLI’S CHANCE is a new German short that I discovered on character designer Harald Siepermann’s blog. The film can be viewed HERE (Windows Media Player version). Directed by Saschka Unseld and Johannes Weiland, the short was commissioned by the German rail to warns kids against playing on or near railroad tracks. The film is in German but its story should be clear to those who don’t speak German. I agree with Harald, who writes on his blog, “It succeeds not only in terms of animation but also in its unpretentious, non-patronizing storytelling.” Some of the design choices are questionable – for example, the extreme separation of the eyes and nose on such realistic designs gives the characters an awkward alien-like quality – but all in all, it’s a pretty good film worth checking out. The film was produced by Studio Soi, a young German commercial animation outfit. Be sure to watch their super-appealing “Bunnies” commercial they produced for MTV; it’s posted on their site.
ADDENDUM: Jakob Schuh, one of the directors at Studio Soi, emailed to let me know that their studio has another website at ChezSoi.de where they have job listings posted. They’re currently looking to hire designers; submission info is on the site.
FLOCK OF DODOS: THE EVOLUTION-INTELLIGENT DESIGN CIRCUS is a live-action documentary that premiered recently at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film notably uses animated inserts to bring some levity to its serious subject. The film’s animation director was Disney and DreamWorks veteran Tom Sito, and the animation was produced by Gang of Seven Animation. Here’s an ARTICLE that interviews Tom Sito and DODOS director Stephen Olson about the idea of using animation in the film.
(Thanks, Aaron Simpson)
Good news folks. ANIMATION BLAST 9 will be (finally) headed to the printer this Friday. I’m spending all this week doing final edits and making sure everything is in order before sending it up to Canada. The final specs are 108 pages, 6.5″x9.5″, full-color throughout, and of course, ad-free. Here are four double-page spreads from the mag:
Graphic designer Pierre Bernard has a regular segment on LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN where he rants about things that annoy him. Last Friday, LATE NIGHT ran a segment about Bernard’s visit to Vancouver and his appearance on the LARRY AND WILLY radio show. When the interviewer asks him if there’s anything that’s bothering him at the moment, Bernard responds:
Actually yes. One of my big things is the Cartoon Network. I love watching that at night. For some bizarre reason, at 12:30 on the Cartoon Network they’re airing SAVED BY THE BELL.The reason why I watch the Adult Swim is because a lot of their programming is Japanese anime. I mean, I had a problem a while back when they took COWBOY BEBOP off the air. I complained about that. And all of a sudden now they’re putting this real TV show, a TV show which I spent years avoiding. I’m hoping this is not going to be a future trend.
While it’s easy to laugh at Bernard’s comments, he makes an extremely valid point: Cartoon Network is on the fast-track to alienating its core viewership, namely dedicated animation fans like Bernard who tune in for anime, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network originals like POWERPUFF GIRLS and SAMURAI JACK.
The YouTube video of the LATE NIGHT segment is below. Bernard’s Cartoon Network complaint begins at about 2 minutes, 15 seconds into the clip. (Video removed from YouTube by NBC).
We received a lot of positive feedback when we did “Jazz Cartoon Friday” so here’s another themed collection of cartoons. Today is, of course, Cinco de Mayo so let’s celebrate by taking a look at how Golden Age animators depicted Mexico (and Mexicans) in classic cartoons.
First up, the introduction of Panchito from Disney’s THREE CABALLEROS (1944).
The scene was animated by the one and only Ward Kimball.
SENOR DROOPY (1949, MGM)
Director: Tex Avery
MEXICALI SCHMOES (1959, Warner Bros.)
Director: Friz Freleng
SNAKE IN THE GRACIAS (1971, DePatie-Freleng)
Director: Hawley Pratt
Not exactly a classic, but the Tijuana Toads were created
by John Dunn, who is featured prominently in the almost-finished ANIMATION BLAST 9.
Worthwhile read: A couple days ago, the LA TIMES published an ARTICLE about the possibility of currently independent DreamWorks Animation being purchased by a larger media conglomerate, like Paramount. Steve Hulett at the Animation Guild also has some thoughts on the topic.(Use BugMeNot to bypass registration)