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.
Speaking of Pixar, as we’ve been doing all week long, Dan Caylor has posted a great 14-1/2 minute video clip on his site that features the following:
> an interview with Ralph Eggleston speaking about the genesis of his short FOR THE BIRDS
> an interview with Jan Pinkava speaking about the technical challenges of creating GERI’S GAME
> and WINTER, an amusing CalArts-era student film by MONSTERS INC. director Pete Docter
If that weren’t enough, there’s also an unintentionally hilarious interview with Polish animator Zbigniew Rybczynski and an early Norman McLaren film (with a swinging performance by Albert Ammons) tucked inbetween the Pixar segments.
He chats with us for a while asking us where we’re from, where we went to school, what we’re working on right now. i was so nervous and wanted to joke around but kept answering everything like it was a pop quiz. what a great moment. they’re already behind schedule and don reminds john they’ve got a couple of more stops. we say bye and right before he walks away i turn to him and say with all honesty – “i’m glad you’re here.”
Paul also writes about the introduction of Catmull and Lasseter to the Disney artists, and he contrasts it with a David Stainton meeting at Disney Florida two years ago. His blog offers but a hint of the feelings of optimism and hopefulness that folks at Disney must be feeling right now. The good vibes certainly extend beyond Disney, and I’m sure many in the animation community, including myself, are now feeling very positive about this week’s developments. After decades of Katzenberg, Schneider, Schumacher and Stainton, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Disney is allowing an artist the caliber of Lasseter take charge of its studio. No doubt that this week will go down as a watershed moment in Disney and animation history.
Let the good times roll. According to the LA TIMES (reg. req’d or BugMeNot), TOY STORY 3 has been shelved. The announcement comes hardly as a surprise: Disney started the TOY STORY 3 unit primarily as a bargaining chip for these negotiations. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see, for once, an animated project that shouldn’t be made get dumped. Here’s the TIMES:
In remarks made during a Tuesday conference call with analysts, Iger and Pixar Chief Executive Steve Jobs implied what other sources confirmed Wednesday: that Disney’s 150-plus-person Pixar sequels unit – which is housed in a Glendale warehouse and is already at work on “Toy Story 3″ – will soon be no more.
“We feel very strongly that if the sequels are going to be made, we want the people who were involved in the original films involved in the sequels,” Jobs said.
Iger sounded the same note.
“It was really important to me that the people who made the films originally, who had the vision, who knew the characters and the essence of these films get a shot at making any films that were derivative,” the Disney chief said.
“While Disney might have been able to make them, Pixar making them is just so much different,” Iger added. “Not to take away from the talent of other people who might have been picked to make them.”
Good stuff worth checking out.
Nate Pacheco: Talented artist and Flash technical guru who has worked on Renegade’s HI HI PUFFY AMI YUMI and ELMO AARDVARK Web cartoons, among many other things.
Brandon Scott: A student at Sheridan whose paintings have a distinctive sense of color and design.
Miles Thompson, of animation and painting fame, has started his own blog.
Clarke Snyder has started a new blog, Inspiration Grab-bag, where he’s posting artwork that inspires him. So far, lots of terrific frame grabs from Disney’s PIGS IS PIGS and scans of Mel Crawford illustrations.
We asked yesterday evening for artists to send in their thoughts about the Disney/Pixar deal. Below are a select number of the responses we received. The feelings are mixed between excitement, cautious optimism and outright disappointment.
Perhaps the best comment of the day.
From former Disney animator and director Will Finn:
This is like seeing the orcs being driven out of Middle Earth. I am overjoyed.
From the legendary Floyd Norman:
Not too many guys can say they’ve worked for both Walt Disney and John Lasseter, so I can offer a unique perspective.
Different cultures at Disney and Pixar? Naw, it’s the same culture. Eisner’s managers simply choked all the creative life out of Disney. The Disney culture is finally returning to Disney. Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs and John Lasseter will be returning it shortly. This is good news for all of us who love animation, and the Disney legacy in particular.
From a ‘CalArts alumni’:
Can you believe that? An animator in charge of Feature animation? Am I dreaming? Is Walt smiling right now? An artist, who has made short films, and feature films, studied figure drawing, can draw and animate, used an Oxberry camera, went to Cal Arts, and loves the medium to death…is in charge of animation? Is there anything better that this? Pinch me I’m dreaming. I can’t sit still, I can’t wait any longer…give me more great stories and characters!All hail John Lasseter!
NY director/animator Michael Sporn:
Ever since the advent of PIXAR, animation has been in flux. The computer continues to readjust the medium. PIXAR, again, is the player and it can only help the artform (for at least a short while). Jobs will be lost and shifted and reprogrammed. Hopefully, the films will get better. Hopefully, 2D will show up somewhere on the horizon and that will grow as well (I have a vested interest in 2D).
At the very least, Disney now has someone who knows the problems and knows the different media we use. That can’t be bad.
Remember that Eisner and Katzenberg, revitalized animation before they brought it down to where it is now. It only took a few years for that part of the soap opera to happen. Before them, there was only Don Bluth and maybe Spielberg and a lot fewer jobs.
From an ‘old-school’ Disney Feature artist who has worked there since the 1980s:
After seeing John Lasseter attempt to introduce computer animated film techniques at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1983 (the Where The Wild Things Are test) to no avail, and after living through the two-picture-a-year toon boom flood of the 90′s, and then watching in amazement the strange paradigm shift that forced some of the best 2D talent in the world out the door along with the award winning directorial team of Ron Clements and John Musker, has made my 23 year career with Walt Disney Feature Animation quite a ride. But the thought of John Lasseter coming back home to Disney at this time of loss and creative confusion is nothing short of a miracle. WOW…
(click on image for larger version)
The drawing above is from somebody who prefers to remain anonymous. He also writes:
As a former Disney Feature Animation artist, my initial reaction upon hearing the news was expressed in this little doodle. Just soaking it all in at the moment…I can’t really see a downside at this point, given that it seems as if the creative reins at Animation are being handed over to Pixar. I almost have to pinch myself: John Lasseter is now Creative Head of both Disney Animation AND Pixar Animation Studios (and Principle Creative Advisor to WDI )…wow !
Amazing what a corporation will pay to purchase an outside company that will arrive to effectively implement a tried-and-true (then forgotten) production philosophy of concentrating on story, development of characters and letting the directors be the final word… So, what WILL become of the soon-to-be-laid-off (banes of the industry) “creative executives?” Hey, they’re so damn creative, maybe they’ll get together to start their own entertainment company. This is simply the best news to come from Disney in at least ten years – although Eisner’s recent departure is a close second.
I used to work for John Lasseter at Pixar and I can tell you there is no greater supporter of animation, both computer and hand-drawn than Lasseter. I am a bit surprised at the buyout. I would have preferred Pixar stay small and keep doing what they do well. I am also concerned that he will spread himself too thin. But I am happy about Pixar having control over sequels of their own films. I would love to see Brad Bird do another Incredibles adventure. Toy Story 3 is in production at Disney without Lasseter’s involvement and the staff must feel uneasy right now (of course, they should have felt uneasy when they took the job). I look forward to some great improvements in Disney animation and some cool new ideas in the parks.
What bugs me the most is that this is just such a slap in the face to any idea of artistic integrity. Over the years, Disney has transmogrified from an animation studio into a global empire of consumerism whose main product these days is some kind of vague sense of ‘family-ness’ or something. They’ve forgotten their roots to such a degree that they thought the reason nobody wanted to see Pocohontas 2 is that it wasn’t, y’know, /computer pictures/. So shut the whole thing down. No wait, let’s just buy the best animation studio out there, and then WE will be the best again right?
The problem is that this is a company who has become so fucking bland that their very name has entered everyday English as a word meaning something along the lines of ‘to sanitize something to the point that it sucks.’ I just can’t see how that won’t happen here.
Any artists at Pixar, Disney or beyond with thoughts on what the sale means — for Disney, Pixar, the animation industry as a whole? Are artists at Pixar happy or disappointed with this deal? What about Disney artists? Email your thoughts over to amid at animationblast dot com. Your name will be kept anonymous if you want. I’ll post some of the more interesting ones on the Brew. Please keep your thoughts concise and to the point.
Here’s the email that Walt Disney Feature Animation President David Stainton sent out today.
From: Stainton, David
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006
To: All Employees
Cc: Iger, Robert A.; Cook, Dick
Subject: passing the torch
an old blessing reads: “may you live in interesting times.” well, apparently we are actually living in those times!
as a result of the changes announced today, i will be leaving animation after 14 amazing, exhilarating, frustrating, exhausting, and very wonderful years. this will happen quickly, as John and Ed are ready to jump right in. they are truly icons of our world, so i can’t feel TOO bad about passing the torch to them. please welcome them as warmly as you have welcomed me.
most of all, i want to make sure that you know the purchase of pixar is NOT about a lack of confidence by bob and dick in what we are doing. on the contrary, in recent days they have gone out of their way to praise what we’ve accomplished. they know what we know: we have rebuilt animation at this company, landed a hit our first time at bat in CG, built amazing teams at circle 7 and dts, and have a fantastic slate of projects going forward. these are great achievements, recognized by everybody who has watched us grow over the past three years. my real wish for you is to feel proud, confident and excited about where you are going.
as exciting as it will be for me to strike out in a new direction, my home will always be here. you’ve taught me everything. i will always love you, your talent, and the great movies you make.
And don’t let the cute dog fool you. Just so there’s no mistaking about Stainton, here’s what the director of a recent Disney feature had to say about him, just prior to Disney’s purchase of Pixar. (Both director and feature shall remain unnamed to protect the innocent.)
I LOVE the idea of Lasseter taking over Disney Feature! The only thing that would be better is if David Stainton is tazered, maced, and peppersprayed, and then frogmarched out of the building, stuffed into a burlap bag and thrown into the LA river. Oh, and a video of the above in an easily downloadable format for my iPod.