Fans of THE INCREDIBLES will want to check out the new Golden Book, JACK-JACK ATTACK, based on the Pixar short of the same name. The book is illustrated by the great Tony Fucile, character designer and supervising animator on THE INCREDIBLES. His drawings are loose and expressive, displaying the effortless charm and sense of immediacy that can only come from years of animating. For $3, this is as affordable as inspiration gets.
Here’s the best thing I’ve found online this week: a three-part video interview from 2001 with all-star cartoonists living in Carmel, California. The participants include magazine cartoonist Eldon Dedini, GORDO creator Gus Arriola, and DENNIS THE MENACE creator Hank Ketcham. All three of them started in animation before finding success as print cartoonists, and sadly, following Dedini’s passing last month, only Arriola is still with us.
To summarize the videos, the following are things that these master cartoonists dislike nowadays: Magazine cartoons, especially THE NEW YORKER (“a lot of times you don’t need the picture”); daily newspaper comics; cartooning skills of artists currently working in both animation and print; ditto their writing skills; contemporary animation that focuses on techique at the expense of character development and humor; and CG animation (in the words of Arriola, it’s so slick “even garbage is pretty.”)
And here are the things they like: Pixar. Yep, that’s pretty much the only bit of modern cartooning that gets some love in this interview. Ketcham says about Pixar, “They do the whole thing in drawing first. They draw their cartoons before they put the technology overlap…that kind of thing may work out fine.”
Also recommended on the same site is an interview with Wah Ming Chang (1917-2003). Chang worked on PINOCCHIO and BAMBI in the Effects and Model Department, and later created stop motion animation for George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE and THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BROTHERS GRIMM, as well as designing costumes for THE KING AND I, creating masks for THE PLANET OF THE APES and designing creatures for the TV series THE OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK. This interview only scratches the surface of Chang’s career, but it’s worth a view.
That’s sportcaster Al Michael’s famous call during the 1980 Winter Olympics, but it might as well apply to today’s events. The Associated press has two stories – HERE and HERE – with more details on the incredibly shrewd business deal that the Disney Co. has engineered: today Disney traded sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC in return for, among other things, the 1920s character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. It’s hard to even wrap my head around how cool this deal is; Disney is using their ESPN division as leverage to further their cartoon holdings. For a company that has shown so little regard and appreciation in recent years for its primary business – animation – this is a particularly meaningful gesture. From one of the AP articles comes this quote from Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller: “When Bob [Iger] was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word. Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun.”
Despite the fact that Oswald has been a largely forgotten character here in the US for many decades, there is currently a lot of appealing Oswald merchandise coming out of Japan. Combine the merchandising potential of the character along with the old Oswald shorts likely coming out on dvd and other ways that Disney will exploit the character, and I think in a couple years NBC Universal will be kicking themselves that they gave away a valuable animation character to Disney…for Al Michaels.
MODERN ARF (Fantagraphics) is one of the most inspiring collections of cartoon artwork I’ve run across in a long time. I bought the book last summer and it’s become one of my frequent references for eclectic visual inspiration. The editor of MODERN ARF, cartoonist/historian/author Craig Yoe, calls ARF “the unholy marriage of art and comics.” Yoe is serious about dismantling the classifications of fine art and popular art. In one of the book’s pieces – a collection of cartoons about the subject of artists and models – a drawing by Picasso is shown alongside drawings by Milt Gross, André François, George Cruickshank, and Robert Crumb. Seeing Picasso and Milt Gross in such close proximity compels one to reexamine their preconceived ideas about these artists. Was Picasso a fine artist or a cartoonist? Was Milt Gross a cartoonist or a fine artist? Couldn’t we appreciate both of their art a lot more if we got rid of these superficial labels? In another piece, Yoe shows the influence of Jack Kirby on pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Hamilton, but he also shows how Kirby himself was influenced by Cubism. Other highlights include Salvador Dali storyboards for an unproduced mid-1930s film, the Art Deco comics of Antonio Rubino, crazed-perspective cartoons of Hy Mayer and a bizarre Jimmy Hatlo strip called THE HATLO INFERNO.
Yoe’s presentation of the artwork is beautiful with images printed large and clear. Text is minimal, with just enough writing to provide history and context. Much of the artwork in the book is over fifty years old, but Yoe’s exuberant visually-striking book design makes the cartoons seem as if they were created yesterday. Craig is currently working on the second installment of the ARF series, ARF MUSEUM. I saw a preview of this a few months back and it promises to be another winner. Even better, the ARF blog will debut in five days. Join the countdown at ArfLovers.com.
Nate Pacheco’s blog deserves a second mention in as many days. A couple years back, he tried to convince the Leo Burnett ad agency to make Tony the Tiger appealing again and return the character to its original Martin Provensen design. He asked some industry friends – Craig Kellman, Lou Romano, Conrad Vernon and Miles Thompson – to create some concept art for the pitch. Leo Burnett didn’t go for the idea. Now Nate has posted a bunch of that art on his blog HERE and encourages you to contact Leo Burnett and ask them to start creating appealing Frosted Flakes commercials again. Everybody I know always gripes about how lame and unappealing Tony the Tiger has been for the past couple decades, but nobody has taken an activist role like Nate to actually encourage the production of better commercials. Hopefully somebody at Leo Burnett is taking notes.
Flash animator Nate Pacheco is working on translating the hard-edged, yet organic, style of mid-century illustrator Charles Harper into Flash animation. We’ve mentioned Harper’s work here before; he is an artist whose work has influenced many contemporary animation designers. Nate has posted a few tantalizing stills on his BLOG, and he says he’s working on the animation now. I’m not sure if this is a Renegade project or just a personal experiment, but it’s a terrific idea.
An article from the San Francisco Business Times about DreamWorks Animation’s hiring binge.
Aardman Animation’s WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT won this year’s ASIFA-Hollywood Annie Award for Best Animated Feature. Like the INCREDIBLES at last year’s Annies, WALLACE & GROMIT dominated the feature categories, taking home ten awards in total, including best directing, music, character design, storyboarding, production design, character animation, voice acting and writing in a feature. The award for best television production went to Cartoon Network’s STAR WARS: CLONE WARS II. Here is the complete list of winners.
Something a bit different for our Cartoon Brew Film of the Week. EVA GOES TO FOREIGN is a 1-minute, 45-second UK-produced public service announcement aimed at dissuading women in Carribbean countries who might engage in drug trafficking. The film is a powerful example of the medium, showing how animation can effectively communicate difficult, serious ideas in a short amount of time.
The spot is also impressive for its distinctive graphic look, courtesy of the film’s co-director and designer Neil Campbell Ross. The backgrounds have a painterly esthetic composed of solid swatches of color with no inked outline. The characters in front also have minimal use of line, with their bodies constructed of bold, colored forms. Both characters and backgrounds have highly abstracted light and shadows playing off their forms that really ties the piece together. Ross has previously done production design/illustration on films as diverse as ANTZ, THE CORPSE BRIDE, TARZAN II, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and Aardman’s upcoming FLUSHED AWAY. I’ve been a big fan since discovering his work online and was surprised to find a piece of animation like EVA that so faithfully translates his style to film. You can see more of his work, including lots of development art for EVA, at his website NeilCampbellRoss.co.uk. Also be sure to check out his BLOG and his incredible development art for THE CORPSE BRIDE.
I asked Neil if he could provide a few background details on the film and here’s what he wrote:
It is a public information short commisioned by FPWP/HIBISCUS, a voluntary organisation that works with drug offenders in the U.K. The story was conceived by Tass Darlington and is based on her interviews with Jamaican women doing time in British prisons for trafficking in hard drugs. It is now being shown on cable and local TV stations in the English-speaking Caribbean countries. Its purpose is to dissuade the kind of vulnerable individual, who gets lured into trafficking, from making the wrong move. The design ‘style’ I would call graphic – realistic. The characters and their settings had to be believable for the intended audience. The sad story is an abbreviated but accurate account of how a young Jamaican woman – EVA – becomes a ‘drug mule’ and the tragic consequences for herself and her family.
My initial designs and all backgrounds were done in Photoshop. The animation was roughed in traditionally – pencil on paper – then cleaned up in Flash and composited in After Effects. The tight soul-reggae music track is by Paul Maxx and Deep Rooted Production. Eva’s beautiful Jamaican patois is spoken by Susan Lawson-Reynolds. Script by Mark Holloway. Adapted by Leone Ross. Co-direction is by myself and Richard Burdett for ANIMAGE FILMS.
Many of the most insightful comments about the Disney-Pixar merger are not coming from the mainstream media, but rather from artists posting thoughts on their blogs. Here’s a few of the interesting posts that I’ve run across recently:
Animator Jeremy Bernstein believes the return of hand-drawn animation is inevitable at Disney, and he’s excited about that possibility.
Toon Baboon wants to see the studio return to its core fundamentals: hand-drawn animation, storytelling, timelessness, and innovation/exploration.
Photographer Daniel Sroka asks, Will Disney generate content or make art?: “Part of Disney’s problem of late is they have confused their business method (themepark, character licensing, etc.) for their mission (telling stories).”
Last month, we wrote about RENAISSANCE, a black-&-white French animated noir that’ll be released theatrically this Spring. Now there’s word of another very different French animated noir, also in black-&-white, that’ll be released in Winter 2006. PEUR[S] DU NOIR (AFRAID OF THE DARK), produced by Prima Linea Productions, seems to be largely a hand-drawn 2D film. It’s conceived as a FANTASIA of fear (my description) with seven short segments exploring the subject of fear, from the macabre to the comical. Each of the segments is designed and written by well known illustrators, comic authors and graphic designers. The artists involved are Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou & Romain Slocombe, Pierre di Sciullo, Dupuy & Berbérian, Lorenzo Mattotti & Jerry Kramsky, and Richard McGuire & Michel Pirus, under the artistic direction of Etienne Robial.
An exhibition about the making of the film opened last week at the Centre national de la bande dessinée et de l’image (CNBDI) in Angoul’me and it will run through August 2006. My friend, French comic writer and novelist David Calvo, saw the exhibit last week while at Angoul’me BD and says the show is well worth checking out.
This recent GLOBE AND MAIL story reveals that the cost of Disney’s upcoming THE WILD was $80 million. Judging from the film’s nearly unwatchable TRAILER, an $80 million budget is not enough to do the following:
- have characters speak with decent lip sync
- plant a character’s feet firmly on the ground so it doesn’t look like it’s floating
- create a production design that marries characters and backgrounds in a manner that doesn’t disturb viewers
I don’t know whether the $80 million figure is taking into account the decade-long cost of when the film was being developed at Disney, but clearly the $80 million budget isn’t showing up in the finished film. Despite the good news that came out of last week’s deal with Pixar, Disney will be unable to avoid the impending embarassment of this film when it’s released in April.
If the powers that be were smart, they’d bury this film and bury it deep. The Disney animation brand is suffering enough nowadays without films like THE WILD exacerbating the situation. The wisest bet would be for Disney to hire the WB folks who were responsible for marketing THE IRON GIANT. That’ll guarantee nobody ever sees THE WILD.
There’s a worthwhile article in today’s ORLANDO SENTINEL about Project Firefly, an independent animation studio created out of the wreckage of Disney Feature Animation in Orlando. The studio recently produced 25% of the outsourced animation on the upcoming CURIOUS GEORGE picture, and is developing its own projects like the TV series FARM FORCE.
The DAILY SHOW looks at the Disney-Pixar merger, and they take good shots at Jobs, Iger, Randy Newman and Pixar’s films, all in two minutes. Good stuff.