This week’s NEW YORKER (Jan. 17) has a piece by Margaret Talbot about Hayao Miyazaki. That piece is only in the print edition, but the NEW YORKER has an online interview with Talbot HERE wherein she discusses Miyazaki’s films, his influences, and his temperament. (via Ronnie del Carmen’s TIRADE)
Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt’s THE ANIMATION SHOW is back for a second edition, and it’s another fine film line-up. They recently announced the program and opening theatrical dates at TheAnimationShow.com. Included in this year’s festival: the terrific WARD 13 which Rita wrote about yesterday, the debut of Don Hertzfeldt’s epic short THE MEANING OF LIFE, the impressive-looking CG short FALLEN ART, and films by the likes of Bill Plympton, Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby and Georges Schwizgebel. Fireworks will be provided by Pes.
All that, plus this excellent poster by Tim Biskup…
Daily visual inspiration for the rest of ’05. Sweet! Here’s an awesome BLOG where somebody (“Filboid Sudge”) is uploading the 1944 day-by-day illustrated diary of animation great Irv Spence. Irv was an animator in Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s Tom & Jerry unit at the time, and he kept the diary throughout the entire year of ’44, documenting daily events at MGM and in his personal life. This was during the height of WWII so there’s plenty of references to victory gardens, gas shortages and the like. I’ve seen the entire diary and there’s beautiful energetic drawings throughout, somewhat reminiscent of George Lichty’s newspaper comic GRIN & BEAR IT.
Mark Bunker sent in this nice memory of recently departed comic legend Will Eisner:
Eisner has long been my favorite comic book artist. The only comics with which I haven’t parted are my Spirit issues from Warren and Kitchen Sink. I marvel at his story telling abilities and the wide range of tone and subject matter he would explore within what would seem a limited superhero genre.
While I was in college, Denis Kitchen came to campus for a comic book expo. I dragged one of my friends along from the drama department. Holly had no interest in comics but I had to introduce her to the work of Eisner. It was one of two introductions for her that day because I insisted on meeting and talking with Denis Kitchen and introduced him to Holly, who would soon after become his wife.
I went on to do some acting and writing including a few radio dramas for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. The woman in charge of the statewide radio drama department had worked in the 40′s for another hero of mine, Carlton E. Morse of “One Man’s Family” and “I Love a Mystery” fame. She told me they had some money left over for a radio series and I pitched her “The Spirit” as a possibility. She was interested.
I wrote two sample half hour shows. The first was the Spirit’s origin with a wrap around of the “Death, Taxes and the Spirit,” the story of IRS agents investigating Denny Colt. The second script was based on “Meet P’Gell.” I laid out a series of thirteen stories taken from my favorite Spirit adventures. All would have been faithful adaptations that I hoped would bring greater attention to Eisner’s stories which were just starting to be reprinted by Kitchen Sink.
Okay, one wasn’t so faithful. I wanted to pay tribute to Eisner’s fondness of spoofing 40′s movies and radio shows by having one broadcast done completely as a Jack Benny show with Jack and the gang doing their version of “The Spirit.” It would have brought together two of my favorite passions at the time…and allow me to do my Benny impression again .
Denis gave me Eisner’s address and I approached him with the idea. Unfortunately, he had just signed a deal to bring the Spirit to the big screen as an animated film. As I recall, there was later an announcement from an animation studio about the film as well as another production based on Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo.” While “Little Nemo” was released in 1992, I’m not sure if it was from the same studio although it likely was.
So I never got to do “The Spirit” but I did receive a lovely handwritten note from Eisner thanking me for my interest and explaining the situation. The Spirit film sadly never happened.
Christmas is over, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the following holiday-themed dvd: Ernie Ford’s THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS. It can be ordered HERE. The hour-long TV special from 1963 features an 18-minute segment designed and produced by SLEEPING BEAUTY background stylist Eyvind Earle. Earle wrote about the challenges of producing the piece (which primarily consists of camera moves over bgs and special fx) in his autobiography HORIZON BOUND ON A BICYCLE:
For many of the scenes showing the manger, Mary, the shepherds and the wise men, there was no time left to paint intricate overlays for my four-level multiplane camera setup which Chuck Arnold and I had built out of aluminum angle irons and four sheets of glass that moved under the camera.I ran outside and picked all the weeds I could find, and slung them on the glass sheets above Mary and the Christ child, and then tracked in with the camera, moving through a forest of overhanging branches created by the weeds. The effect was excellent and by some miracle I finished the whole product in time to be aired on NBC two separate times before Christmas.(Thanks to Ken Hettig for the heads up on the dvd)
At the fwak blog, Lili and Eddie write about some early Zagreb cartoons they recently saw: “If Disney’s objective was to create the ‘Illusion Of Life’, then the Zagreb school wasn’t under any illusions. Zagreb characters behave like drawings, and as a result create their own kind of life.” It’s an incredible shame that the vast majority of the studio’s output from the ’50s and ’60s (Zagreb’s golden age) isn’t available on video/dvd.
Here’s a WEBSITE with a lot of nice film clips of Eastern European stop motion animation by the likes of Starevitch, Zeman and Trnka. It’ll either inspire you or put you to sleep. Or maybe it’ll inspire you to sleep. In any case, it’s worth a click.
Sony Imageworks’s first feature OPEN SEASON already has one major strike against it: three co-directors. In my opinion, great animated features have a strong singular vision (Brad Bird, Henry Selick, Sylvain Chomet), not the diluted ideas of multiple individuals. Films with co-directors have rarely worked in live-action (the exception being works by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), and if the studio animated features from the past decade are any indication, it’s a similarly ineffective system for producing quality cartoon films.
Nevertheless, there are reasons to have hope for Sony’s foray into feature animation. First, the film’s teaser poster is actually appealing. Obviously, it’s not final production art, but it seems to indicate that Sony is headed more in Pixar’s direction than DreamWorks/PDI’s, which is to say they’re making a film that actually takes advantage of the animated medium and not simply producing a live-action feature in CG guise. The film is based on ideas by syndicated cartoonist Steve Moore (IN THE BLEACHERS) which also points towards a more animated approach. Another reason to hope is that, despite my reservations about the co-director system, the film’s directors are actually quite talented. Ethan Hurd writes on his blog about why he left PDI to join the OPEN SEASON crew, and it’s primarily because of his faith in one of the film’s co-directors, Jill Culton, who worked on story for TOY STORY 2 and MONSTERS INC. The other co-directors are THE LION KING’s Roger Allers and Tony Stacchi, who has a lot of great projects on his resume and must be cool because he just started his own blog HERE. Jamie Baker mentions on his BLOG that Carter Goodrich and COW & CHICKEN’s Dave Feiss are also involved in OPEN SEASON. The film is currently slated for ’06 release.
Manohla Dargis put it best in THE NEW YORK TIMES when she called it, “The best bit of animation to originate in a DreamWorks film yet.” She was referring to the terrific end credit sequence for LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, which you can watch for free at IFILM — without having to endure the two hours of junk preceding it. Stylistically, the work reminds me a bit of Lane Smith and a bit of Lotte Reiniger, but with a completely original overriding vision. There were three artists responsible for the sequence: Benjamin Goldman, Todd Hemker and Jamie Caliri. I don’t know much about any of them, but Hemker had a FILM at last year’s Annecy Film Festival (which I somehow missed) and Ben Goldman has a WEBSITE with more examples of his work. Here’s to hoping we’ll see more inspired work from these guys.
(Thanks to Gérald Guerlais for some of the links)
I have only one New Year’s resolution and that is to finish ANIMATION BLAST #9. I’ve been immensely frustrated with my inability to deliver this issue to the printer and I could never have imagined that it would fall so far behind schedule. One would think that with eight issues under my belt, it wouldn’t be such a monumentally difficult task finishing a ninth. Alas, it has been, and for an incredible variety of reasons which I won’t even begin to list here. However I’m determined to get this issue done soon and a new date has been posted on the BLAST website. I want to sincerely thank all readers of the magazine for their patience; hopefully the issue will be worth the wait. Also in the works for ’05 is a complete relaunch of the ANIMATION BLAST website. More on that in a bit.
When Lili Chin and Eddie Mort posted an item on their fwak blog last September about the forthcoming upgrade of Macromedia Flash, it generated dozens of comments from other industry Flash animators about features they wanted to see included in the new version. A representative from Macromedia was copiously taking notes and the company’s software developers have been incorporating the feedback from that post into the next version of Flash. This is but one example of the effectiveness of animation blogs and the potential they have to create a positive impact on the animation community.
Last year saw not only the arrival of numerous new animation blogs, but also the roots of a community forming, which ensures the diverse voices on these blogs will be heard by a significant audience. These blogs are more than simply an attempt to collect and catalog news a la Animation World Network or ANIMATION MAGAZINE. Animation blogs are forums for rational discussion and thoughtful idea exchange, created by dedicated individuals working in and around the industry. They aren’t dragged down by the repetitive obnoxious griping that is a common feature of certain animation message boards. Animation blogs have also pushed beyond the stale mainstream media stories about animation like “Is 2D animation dead?” and “Why do so many celebrities watch SPONGEBOB?”; we have formed a custom, organically evolving media that is suited to the needs of this industry and art form.
The animation blogging community, while still in its infancy, expanded significantly in 2004. Mike Barrier started publishing his thoughts about animation regularly for the first time since the days of his groundbreaking magazine FUNNYWORLD. At AniPages Daily, Ben Ettinger shares views about Japanese animation that reach beyond the fanboy-ish tendencies of most anime discourse. The crew of Nick’s MY LIFE AS A TEEN-AGE ROBOT launched a blog of their own to communicate directly with the show’s fans and allow the average viewer a glimpse into the show’s production process. Artists like Ethan Hurd, Ronnie del Carmen, Enrico Casarosa and Jim Hull presented insights into their work techniques, tools of the trade and artistic inspirations. Ward Jenkins went a step further and fixed THE POLAR EXPRESS, elevating the discussion of how to improve modern animation to an entirely unprecedented level. This very site, Cartoon Brew, launched last March, and while I find it difficult to make any objective assessment of what (if anything) we accomplished, the fact that our readership has far eclipsed the combined readerships of our pre-Brew sites, Cartoon Research and Animation Blast, leads me to believe that we’re doing something right.
So who will create the next animation blog? In what directions will the community evolve? What can we do to push this art form to the next level? 2005 holds the answers and I can’t wait to find out.
Mother Nature’s new annual holiday tradition? Hopefully not. Almost exactly a year after the Bam earthquake in Iran that killed over 25,000 people came the recent earthquake/tsunami combo in southeast Asia. We’ll be talking cartoons the rest of the year here on Cartoon Brew, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the victims of the quake and encourage Brew readers to send them some help. There are plenty of organizations that can use your support right now; my personal choice is Mercy Corps. They’re a lean and effective aid group based out of Portland, Oregon that allocates 91% of donations directly towards aiding those in need (a higher percentage than most other relief organizations). They also post regular updates on their site of what they’re specifically doing in each country to help the victims.
And now that we’re done helping people, we can spend the rest of the year mocking Michael Eisner’s incompetence.
Best wishes for a safe and happy holidays to all of our friends and readers!
I’ll personally be taking a break from the Brew until after the first of the year. Jerry Beck, or our guest contributor Harry McCracken, may post before this, but I’ll see everybody on the other side…
For more great artwork, like the illustration above by Lowell Hess, take out a subscription to Shane Glines’s CartoonRetro.com.
A few notes from my trip to northern California last week…
I visited Chronicle Books for a meeting with Alan Rapp, the editor of my Fifties animation design book. I have to say, it’s terrific having an editor who is totally in tune with the project and is supportive of what I’m trying to accomplish. I don’t know if this is the norm for the publishing industry — both editors I’ve worked with at Chronicle have been great — but it’s reassuring to know that Chronicle is just as devoted as I am to turning out a really cool book. Right now I’m in the midst of a grueling schedule to finish the book, which means countless hours of research, writing and image-gathering. If all goes according to plan, the Fifties design book should be released sometime in 2006.
While at Chronicle, I also managed to get my hands on an advance copy of THE ART OF ROBOTS, which will hit stores in another month or two. The book turned out exactly as I had expected, and considering everything, I’m pleased with the results. The only surprise, and a pleasant one at that, is that I received solo writing credit on the book; originally I shared a co-writing credit with ROBOTS production designer/exec producer Bill Joyce. A co-author credit would have been useful in the event that somebody dislikes the book, because then I could have simply said, “Oh, that’s Bill’s fault.” Now I’ll need to come up with another excuse — not that I’m expecting anybody will dislike this fine ‘art of’ book. Here’s the final dustjacket and the silver cover underneath.
I visited with various artists for the Fifties book, notably Ed Benedict and Charles and Rosemary McElmurry. Benedict, of course, everybody already knows (if you don’t, see BLAST #8), but Charles McElmurry is another terrific animation designer from that era whose name is not as well known. Hopefully that’ll change once this book is out. I also visited with John Dunn’s brother Alvin. This visit wasn’t related to the book, but for ANIMATION BLAST #9, which is still in production. I’m working concurrently on both the book and BLAST #9 and my hope is to have BLAST #9 out sometime in June/July ’05, only a year-and-a-half later than its original release date (jeez…looks like I’m becoming the Richard Williams of animation magazines).
Also dropped by ASIFA-San Francisco’s annual Christmas party, where among other people I finally met the infamous Lippy. I can’t vouch for the fact that he’s infamous, but with a name like Lippy, you just have to assume there’s some infamy lurking in his past. He gave me a copy of his latest short film, DINO-SORE DAYS, a new “Happy Tree Friends” epsiode included on the THIRD STRIKE dvd. The 1920s-styled short is animated in Flash, but with a beautiful tribute scene to the 3D “turntable” model sets that the Fleischer Studios utilized in some of their shorts. The “set” was modelled entirely in Maya (by Ted Pratt), but looks like an authentic hand-made plaster-and-clay set. Very nice job. You can see a clip from the short and find out more about how they created the turntable effect at Lippy.com. Thanks to everybody else who made the San Francisco trip so enjoyable: Andy Beall at Pixar, Harry McCracken at PC WORLD, Carla Liss, Nik and Nancy Phelps, Ted Pratt and Karl Cohen.