If you’re not reading John K.’s new blog, you’re missing one of the most entertaining animation blogs on the Internet. John’s most recent post revolves around the following premise: “Spumco is responsible for the 3 biggest business, marketing and technological innovations in the last 15 years and everyone else has benefitted greatly.”Agree?Didn’t think so.To play devil’s advocate though, name another individual who’s had as much influence on contemporary TV animation as John K? Perhaps Matt Groening? Bruce Timm? Mike Judge? Could make for an interesting discussion. Of course, considering the current state of TV animation, I’m not sure why anybody would be chomping at the bit to take credit for it.
MIDNIGHT EYE has this interview with Eiko Tanaka, co-founder and president of Japan’s Studio 4°C, the company that produced the amazing MIND GAME. I’ve actually been a fan of a number of 4°C’s productions, including MEMORIES and NOISEMAN SOUND INSECT, but the funny thing is that I didn’t realize until recently that they were all made by the same studio. I’ll definitely be paying much closer attention to what they produce in the future.
“The Over the Hedge trailer is horrible,” says Jim Hull. He should know since he worked on the film. Jim has an interesting post on Seward Street where he compares it to what he feels is a more successful trailer for Pixar’s CARS.
Animator Nate Pacheco has posted two must-see episodes of the early-1960s cartoon series JOT. He calls it one of his biggest sources of inspiration. JOT is certainly one of the most underrated cartoon shows ever produced and it’s nice to see it getting some attention online.
What is most striking about these JOT episodes is how the storytelling is driven by the graphics and animation. For example, in the episode where Jot steals the toy, notice how the story is told almost entirely through visuals. The limited dialogue in the cartoon is integrated fluidly into the action and drives the story forward. Furthermore, the animators create personality through the animation, not through dialogue. Note the little Irish jig that Jot does after he gets out of school – completely unnecessary from a story standpoint, but a perfectly expressive moment that puts across Jot’s happy mood while going home from school. Watching the graphic storytelling in JOT reminds one of the anemic state of TV animation nowadays. Most contemporary shows produced by Nick, Cartoon Network and Disney look good superficially, but they rarely take advantage of the animation medium to tell stories visually, instead relying on the ‘talking-head’ TV animation formulas of Hanna-Barbera and Filmation with characters garrulously explaining every bit of action to audiences.
The production backstory of JOT is also pretty interesting. The reason the cartoon has such a strong religious theme is because it was produced for the Southern Baptist’s Radio and Television Commission. The show was created by Ruth Byers and Ted Perry. More history about the show can be found here and here. The company that produced the show was Keitz & Herndon, an animation studio located in Dallas, Texas. The studio was started in the early-1950s and the crew was comprised primarily of self-taught animators. Below is a photo of the studio founders, Larry Herndon (left) and Roddy Keitz. Herndon dealt primarily with the business aspects of the studio, while Keitz was the artistic director. Both of them still live in Texas.
What a way to start the week – here’s the new trailer DreamWorks recently released for OVER THE HEDGE. I’m speechless, but fortunately for audiences, the characters in the film are not. If anybody’s idea of animated entertainment is listening to ninety minutes straight of over rehearsed lines by Wanda Sykes, Garry Shandling and Steve Carell, then this film surely won’t disappoint.
And here’s the third trailer Warner Bros. has released for HAPPY FEET. It features:
The vocal “talent” of Robin Williams.
Super-realistic (i.e. super-boring) penguin designs.
Creepy stilted (mo-cap?) animation.
Looks like some filmmaker has discovered the magic formula to CG success.
In a new WIRED interview, film/music video director Michel Gondry offered an interesting personal perspective on CGI:
People rely too heavily on CGI. Digital filmmaking should be used to do more edgy stuff, not to replace techniques that are already functioning well. I like to take a digital effect and push it to do something different.
(Thanks, Pete Levin)
HUGE news out of the Walt Disney Co.’s shareholders’ meeting today! I’m surprised that nobody else has picked up on the story yet. Animation fan Daikun, who attended the meeting, took lots of notes about what was said and posted them HERE. The big news is that he says a trailer was shown for Brad (THE INCREDIBLES) Bird’s next film at Pixar. The film is RATATOUILLE, which will be released in summer 2007.
This is the first time that Bird’s name has been officially associated with the film. The original director of the film had been Jan Pinkava, who had helmed the Oscar-winning Pixar short GERI’S GAME. While modern Disney films often times have had the original director replaced during the course of production, I believe that this is the first time a Pixar film has not had its original director see the film through completion. It obviously raises a lot of questions about what happened, but with Brad Bird directing, I think we can all be assured that the film is in good hands.(Thanks, Graham Finch)
UPDATE 2: Local 839 president Kevin Koch offered a brief comment about RATATOUILLE on the Animation Guild blog. He wrote: “I’d heard a few weeks ago that the film was having some problems, and that Brad had been called in for a major revision, but I figured they’d find a way to keep Jan Pinkava (original director) a part of things.”
UPDATE 1: I received a couple of emails pointing out that this is not the first time a Pixar film has changed its original director. That precedent was set on TOY STORY 2, on which John Lasseter assumed directing duties midway through production.
The passing of legendary American photographer/filmmaker Gordon Parks reminds me of an interesting fact I learned while researching my upcoming book CARTOON MODERN. Parks’s first film, the documentary FLAVIO (1964), was produced by the animation studio, Elektra Films, in New York. The studio was one of New York’s most well regarded commercial animation studios in the late-50s and early-1960s and pretty much anybody who was somebody on the East Coast animation design scene worked there at some point. It was started by former UPA artist Abe Liss, who had done layout on a number of the early Mister Magoo shorts in LA. He had also been the creative director of UPA-NY and Transfilm prior to starting Elektra in 1956 with business partner Sam Magdoff.
It’s unclear how Liss and Parks got connected though they shared similarly tough Depression-era upbringings. Both of them came from working class families and had done back-breaking work in the Civilian Conversation Corps during the mid-1930s (though not together). May Liss, Abe’s wife, told me that Liss had been heavily involved in the production of FLAVIO, particularly because Parks had no prior filmmaking experience. The film was among a number of eclectic independent and commissioned film projects that Liss undertook beginning in the late-1950s. He certainly could have gone in some interesting directions both as filmmaker and producer, but unfortunately, Liss died in December 1963 from a heart attack, right around the time of FLAVIO’s completion. Parks was one of the speakers at his memorial service.
You know what I was thinking the other day?
That one or more of the Wayans brothers should create an animated cartoon.
And they should call their cartoon something really stupid, like THUGABOO.
And that this cartoon should look incredibly incompetent, like it was drawn by high school students during after-school detention. Something along these lines…
Well, what do you know! Thank you Nickelodeon for being so in tune with my innermost thoughts.
I love feel-good stories like the one that ran in yesterday’s MONTREAL GAZETTE (the article is unfortunately not online). The piece is about Jack Dunham, a 95-year-old former animation artist who gave up his apartment last month. Both he and his wife are homeless now. The article doesn’t explain whether he was forcibly evicted from his home or not, but it’s still depressing as hell. In the 1930s, Dunham worked at Disney and Lantz. I can’t find any record of him at Disney because he was probably only an assistant, but he’s in this early-1930s Lantz photo. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
[Dunham] created the St. Hubert Chicken [St. Hubert Bar B-Q is a chain of restaurants in Québec, the first restaurant being on St. Hubert St.; the chicken is shown on their webpage]. But Dunham, a former Walt Disney Studios artist, is old and a bit frail now; instead of throwing the bawk-bawk-bawk at him, perhaps we should forgive Dunham his red-thatched trespasses.
He’ll be 96 in September. Where he’ll be celebrating his birthday is uncertain, because Dunham and Dorothy Stewart, the former New York fashion model to whom he’s been married for 51 years, are homeless.
Since giving up their St. Marc St. apartment in early February, the Dunhams have been staying at St. Luc Hospital. Social service agencies are trying to place the couple in a care facility, but that could take awhile.
The article also has this priceless quote from Dunham: “I was 6-foot-4 as a teenager and I was still 6-foot-4 when I was 90. But then I started to lose height. I’m about 6 feet, and I weight 125 pounds, down from 250 when I was 90. I told my wife that at this rate, she’ll be able to carry me around in her purse.”
I’m not sure how many folks are aware of this, but there’s interesting and rare animation popping up almost daily now on YouTube. For example, I recently spotted a couple of the best shorts produced for Hanna Barbera’s mid-90s shorts series WHAT-A-CARTOON (aka World Premiere Toons), an idea of then-Hanna Barbera president Fred Seibert. TALES OF WORM PARANOIA, was directed by the one and only Eddie Fitzgerald, and it has some of the fullest and most interesting animation in the entire series. Eddie spoke about his experiences making the film here and here. The other short, BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE, was written and directed by Don Shank, Charlie Bean and Carey Yost. The talent on this short was unbelievable – besides the capable trio of Shank, Bean and Yost, other artists who pitched in include Scott Wills, Bob Jaques, Chris Reccardi, Lynne Naylor, Mike Fontanelli, Jim Smith, Craig McCracken, Mucci Fassett, Dave Wasson, Julian Chaney and Rob Renzetti. I can’t even imagine how it’s possible to use so many great artists for one seven-minute short. The production values speak for themselves though and there’s some solid design and layout throughout.
(TALES OF WORM PARANOIA poster at top via Frederator)
This Flash-animated music video for Telemetry Orchestra’s song “Suburban Harmony” is one of my favorite music videos of recent months. It was created by London-based Australian Steve Scott, who is also a member of the band. The video is pretty clearly a tribute to Heinz Edelmann’s production design for THE YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968), with touches of other late-60s graphic styling like Terry Gilliam’s animated films and the illustrations of New York design studio Push Pin. You can read more about Scott’s work at Cold Hard Flash or check out his animation/illustration portfolio at SteveScott.com.au.
Pixar story artist Jim Capobianco is working on a personal hand-drawn short called LEONARDO and he’s almost done with the rough animation (image above). He tells me the film should be finished by mid-2007. Keep up with the production HERE.
The blog Lyris-Lite is reporting that the British Board of Film Censors, the equivalent of the MPAA in the US, has censored over 3 minutes of an upcoming dvd release of REN & STIMPY seasons 1 and 2. The censored segment is the “Hanging Song” from the episode OUT WEST, which was cut because “the subject of hanging is presented as comedic, fun and risk free, on the grounds of potential harm to the likely audience and in accordance with the Video Recordings Act 1984.” More details HERE.