Video game animation isn’t a frequent topic of discussion on the Brew, but LOCO ROCO, an upcoming Sony PSP game from Japan, recently caught my attention. The character designs are simple and sans outlines, in that supercute style that Japanese designers do so well. The backgrounds strive for a similarly fresh approach, and use crisp appealing shapes with creative color styling. Overall, the design and animation of LOCO ROCO easily matches the standard of most of today’s animated TV shows. Just take a look at this video demo. The entire gameplay, and not just the cut scenes, look like a TV series done in Flash or something. I’m not sure what, if anything, this means for the industry, but with the technology finally at a point where videogames (2D ones at least) can look this good, one hopes that game developers will begin to take greater advantage of the possibilities to produce creatively designed and well animated games.
(click on image for larger version)
A legendary magazine cartoonist with an inimitable style, Eldon Dedini, passed away last Thursday from esophageal cancer. His work, including many beautiful watercolor cartoons, appeared primarily in PLAYBOY, THE NEW YORKER and ESQUIRE. Prior to animation, he worked at Disney as a storyboard artist in the 1940s, both on their shorts and the package features like FUN AND FANCY FREE (1947). Here’s a nicely written obit from his hometown paper, the Monterey County Herald. Also, a major collection of his work is being published this summer by Fantagraphics. The image at top is a page from a 1967 Volkswagen promotional book, hence the Volks-themed cartoon.
Blackwing Diaries has posted some interesting John K. drawings of elephants which I hadn’t seen before. According to Jenny’s blog, these were for a freelance WB gig from around the time REN & STIMPY was starting up. The posts, HERE and HERE, also offer a good perspective on the LA animation scene ca. 1990.
People ask me on occasion why I like animation. It’s a difficult question to answer, and one that I’ve rarely (if ever) answered to my own satisfaction. To me, art is something as natural and necessary as breathing or eating. Why wouldn’t I like animation would seem to be a more appropriate question. Well, I may have finally found a better answer.
Tonight, at ASIFA-Hollywood’s “Evening with John Canemaker” event, John screened six classic animated shorts that he finds inspiring for one reason or another. Put together, these six films are the perfect explanation for why I like (love?) cartoons. Animation, at its best, is a visual medium unlike any other, one that is filled with limitless creative possibilities, and these films illustrate the point more vividly and efficiently than anything I could ever say. So the next time somebody asks me why I enjoy animation, I’ll just give them a list of the following films:
The Fleischer short MYSTERIOUS MOSE (1930)
The Disney short THE BAND CONCERT (1935)
FOX HUNT – Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin (1936)
FLAT HATTING – John Hubley (1946)
FREE RADICALS – Len Lye (1957)
THE TEMPEST (scenes from an unfinished film) – George Dunning (ca. mid-1970s)
(Image courtesy of Cartoon Retro)
I first saw this film back at SIGGRAPH 2003 so it’s not exactly new. But the film has stuck with me, and it holds up quite well. Now that it’s online, I have to point it out. TIM TOM is a graduate film by Romain Segaud and Christel Pougeoise, produced at the French animation school SupInfoCom.
There’s all sorts of nods to old school animation techniques in this film — from the opening titles (in the form of a thaumatrope) to the flipbook facial expressions to the characters interacting with strips of film. But the biggest nod to old school techniques is the quality of the character animation itself. Computer animated characters, especially those in student films, rarely move like this…with such distinctive and individual styles of movement, with such snappy timing, with such expressive overlapping action. But much to the credit of the two filmmakers, the characters in TIM TOM are alive in the way that the best animated characters should be.
Here’s some production info in the words of one of the filmmakers, Christel Pougeoise:
We met at SupInfoCom, one of the top animation schools in France with an emphasis on teaching CGI animation. There we collaborated on a five minute animated film that took 16 months to create. The simple scenario features two animated characters trying to meet against the wishes of a giant omnipotent human hand. There is no dialogue but the thoughts and expressions of the protagonists are written on their notepad faces. Using Maya, Photoshop, and After Effects, the 3D computer animation is made to look like realistic puppets made of clay and paper. It’s a reference to old stop-motion films. We also chose a 40s jazz soundtrack (Django Reinhardt) and a black and white image to provide the film overall with the aesthetics of the classic films of MéliÃ¨s, Trinka, Dudok de Wit, and Svankmayer. Romain came up with the original idea and I liked it so much I decided to work with him. During the third year, we worked on the screenplay and storyboards and during the last year we modeled the characters, animated them, rendered the movie with computers, added the sound, and then transferred it all to 35mm film. Tim Tom has played at several festivals in Europe and US, has received the LEAF award in London and the prix de la SCAM in France.
Forget the whole Plympton vs. Gondry flap on the Kanye West video. Today, it’s Michel Gondry vs. Mike Jittlov. I received an email from an artist yesterday (who prefers to remain anonymous) complaining that the Gondry video for West isn’t all that original. He wrote, “I just thought it was worth pointing that Gondry’s video (colors and all) is a huge homage/rip of Mike Jittlov’s amazing short film ‘Swing Shift,’ and is a very poor imitation at that. Not that I’m not a Gondry fan, because I am, but considering the source, it’s not one of his better efforts.”
Mike Jittlov, for those that aren’t familiar, is a legend of the LA indie animation scene. I’m familiar with his pixelation work, particularly THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME, but I’d never seen SWING SHIFT. That is, until last night, because I found online a late-70s showreel of Jittlov’s work, thanks to blog of Pixar’s Jeff Pidgeon. There’s a clip from SWING SHIFT about 1/3 of the way into the reel where you can find, what else, clothes and other objects dancing after-hours in a department store. You can decide for yourself whether the Gondry video has its roots in this Jittlov short, but I’d definitely recommend watching the entire Jittlov reel. Who knew Regis Philbin was a fan of experimental animation?
UPDATE: Tom Knott writes, “I have an interview with Gondry were he talks about the influence of Norman McLaren, specifically McLaren’s film ‘A Chairy Tale’ (1957). Gondry noted that he makes reference to ‘A Chairy Tale’ in a video he did for Beck. The Kanye West video seems to also reference ‘A Chairy Tale.’”
There’s a new independent 25-minute CGI short from Japan called NEGADON, THE MONSTER FROM MARS, directed by Jun Awazu at Studio Magara. Usually, I’m turned off by photorealistic CG, but there’s an element of stylization in the production that lifts it above typical photorealism. Brew reader John Cassidy writes more about it:
I’m a big fan of tokusatsu (Japanese for “special effects,” which describes all Japanese live-action FX fantasies, from Godzilla to Ultraman to Kamen/Masked Rider). NEGADON, THE MONSTER FROM MARS is a tribute to the “daikaijuu” (giant monster) genre of Golden-Age tokusatsu eiga (the 1950s and 60s), with a giant space monster, military mecha, and even a giant robot (created by an emotionally-scarred scientist), which fights with the title monster at the end! Even with CG-animation, the creators of this short wanted to capture the hand-made feel of vintage tokusatsu (right down to outer space being dark-blue!), and it looks impressive. It was released on DVD in Japan this past December 15th.
Remember a couple months back when Kanye West commissioned two music videos for the same song? One was from Bill Plympton, the other from Michel Gondry. We wrote about it HERE and HERE. Now, Bill Plympton writes in his JOURNAL about how he got associated with Kanye. Apparently, West had originally commissioned a super-expensive video from Gondry, but wasn’t satisfied with the results, so he got Plympton to create a new video in one week. For those that want to compare the versions, here’s Gondry’s version (the animation director of this video was Peter Sluszka) and here’s Plympton’s version. It’s interesting to note how the visuals add an entirely new layer of meaning and effect to the song. Personally, I prefer Plympton’s hand-drawn version, with its raw, smudgy style, which is a more honest expression of the song’s earthy (if somewhat labored) tone. Gondry’s slick, candy-colored treatment, on the other hand, screams, “Look, how big my budget was!” in every shot, and, in my view, largely misses the point of the song.
The call has been answered. Thanks!
I did this a while back for another project I was working on, and I received some really good leads, so let’s try it again. A project I’m working on right now requires a web designer. It’s a cartoon-related deal and a paying gig (but on a small budget). I’m not looking for any web designer though – I need somebody who has a thorough knowledge of CSS, Web standards and blogs (MovableType/WordPress). Flash won’t be needed. The only way I’ll know if you’re right for the project is if I see examples of work using these elements, so please email me at amid (at) animationblast (dot) com with samples of your work or a link to an online portfolio. Thanks everybody!
Last October I proudly announced that I had started working full-time on the oft-delayed ANIMATION BLAST #9. Well, that lasted a good couple weeks until I got thrown back into intense edits for the CARTOON MODERN book. And once again I was forced to set aside BLAST 9 and not achieve my self-imposed deadline. Fortunately, all the revisions on CARTOON MODERN were finally wrapped up last week and I’m back full-time on BLAST 9. I’m hesistant to announce a new date, but I hope to wrap the issue up by the end of January and have it back from the printers by the end of February. This issue has been in the works for an incredibly long time and I certainly don’t want to create the sense that I’m holding onto people’s money without delivering, so if anybody is dissatisfied with the long wait, please send me an email and I’ll immediately issue a refund.
The image at the top of this post is an animation drawing by John Sibley from THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD. There’s a great article about Sibley in BLAST 9 by Pete Docter, and I fully expect that you’ll be able to read it one of these days.
WALT’S PEOPLE, VOLUME 2 was released recently and it’s a wonderful collection of rare and enlightening interviews with Golden Age animation artists including Friz Freleng, Grim Natwick, Frank Tashlin, Ward Kimball, Floyd Gottfredson, Herb Ryman, Frank Thomas, Dale Oliver, Eric Larson and Woolie Reitherman. The self-published series is edited by French author Didier Ghez, and contributors include Disney experts such as Robin Allan, Paul F. Anderson, Michael Barrier, J.B. Kaufman and Jim Korkis. The book weighs in at a hefty 375 pages, and sells for under $20 at Xlibris.com. And while you’re at it, pick up Volume 1 as well, which has interviews with Marc Davis, Milt Kahl, Rudy Ising, Bill Tytla and Ken Anderson, among others.
Tooning In is a snort-out-loud-funny ONION-esque blog about the animation industry. The creators of the blog, who’ve chosen to remain anonymous, are all artists who work in the industry. They skewer just about everything under the sun from independent animation to anime, but the funniest (and truest) entries are those that take aim at producers and executives and all the awful decisions they make.
Here’s an excerpt from a story titled “Producer Brings Cartoon Know-How To Winery”:
Producer Marcia Crandall, best known in the animation industry as producer of straight-to-video classics such as “Naptime Commandos” “The Kuddle-Lumps” and “The Penguin and Me”, for now-defunct “Great Vids” video, has moved out of tinseltown and is now working her magic on northern Calfornia wines.
“The wine business is a lot like animation in many ways.” Says Crandall. “These are groups of people dedicated to their craft, with skill and passion, serving an audience who appreciates what they do. It’s my job to make sure they don’t get too ‘wacky’ with the wine stuff, and to bring fresh ideas to the table, just like I did when “Great Vids” did the “Andy Capp” adaptation.”
Fans may recall “Great Vids” “Andy Capp”, notable for featuring the beloved English barfly and womanizer as a stuffed teddy bear who can cause dreams to come true. The series prompted howls of protest from the millions of Andy Capp fans around the world.
I was backing up computer files this morning and found this scan of an MGM model sheet of Jerry mouse. Lots of great poses and facial expressions — a veritable masterclass in character design. Didn’t have time to clean up all the pencil marks on the image, but you can click on the pic for a large version of the model sheet.
Welcome to a new feature that we’re introducing here in 2006: the Cartoon Brew Film of the Week. Every week Jerry and I will highlight an animated short, music video or commercial that we feel deserves to be seen by a wider audience. The Internet has truly revolutionized the world of animation, and whereas once upon a time, one had to travel to animation festivals to see such films, today everybody can experience the world’s greatest animation from the comfort of one’s own home or office. We want to make sure that the cream of the crop independent animated films are recognized and given the attention they deserve, so we’re going to make our best effort to offer one exemplary piece of animation here every week. And we promise, only the good stuff on Cartoon Brew. If you have your own film that you feel should be the Cartoon Brew Film of the Week, please drop us a line.
Our first film sets the bar for quality extremely high. It’s an exquisite 8-1/2 minute short from France called LES AILES DU PAPILLON (THE WINGS OF THE BUTTERFLY) by 24-year-old Benjamin Gibeaux. Over the last seven months, he single-handedly wrote, animated and directed the film, as well as composed its music, and he just finished it last week.
It’s a sweet and charming story on the surface, but the light tone masks some surprisingly deep political undertones. I personally read it as an allegorical tale of what happens when one country invades another for its own selfish reasons, but does so under the pretenses of helping that other country’s people. However you choose to read it though, there’s no mistaking that the artwork is superb. Color is used in an elegant and sensitive manner, the animation is spare but effective, and the loose calligraphic quality of the drawings remind me at turns of Ludwig Bemelmans, Matisse, and André François.
Animator/director Joel Brinkerhoff emailed me with a couple of his recent historical discoveries that he wanted to share. I thought they were both interesting observations and worthy of further debate, so here they are:
Many know the German humorist Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) to be the inspiration for the comic strip creation of “The Katzenjammer Kids.” I suspect he also may have fathered the outrageous ‘takes’ and gags of the Avery’s and Clampett’s. The accompanying image shows examples of the steamroller pancake gag, the rubber hose body, and very interesting ‘takes’ involving enlarged organs, morphing, multiple appendages, and smearing–all forty years before animation introduced them to a new audience.
(click on image for larger version)
Undisputedly Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese created the 1953 classic cartoon “Duck Amuck,” but the ideas and comic bits were around for a long time before they brought them to new light. The springboard seems to be Buster Keaton’s 1924 masterpiece “Sherlock Jr.” In it we find the continuity gags of changing backgrounds and props pulled and replaced. Next, a very specific split-frame gag can be traced to an obscure 1941 Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson adaptation of the play “Hellzapoppin.” Director H.C. Potter continually broke the fourth wall in this self-referencing farce, and created a projectionist joke where the film became stuck with the framing splitting the screen. The characters comment on their condition before the supposed projectionist can make the correction, twelve years before Daffy found himself in the same situation.
UPDATE: Another fine animator/director – Steve Segal – offers some thoughts about the DUCK AMUCK entry:
Thank you for the insightful treatise on “Duck Amuck.” Any discussion that brings attention to “Sherlock Jr.” is OK with me. In a sense, the earliest animations broke the fourth wall since the early chalk talk animations showed the animator’s hand. That was followed by Fleischer’s Inkwell series, where the animator is as visible as the toon, plus Koko and Bimbo can be seen having heated discussions with the animator. Another early cartoon that seems to echo Jones’ classic is “Comicalamities” (1928) where Felix argues with the animator and talks him into making his girlfriend cuter.