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.
I hadn’t heard of Abner Graboff until recently, but really like his work – a very stylized approach yet also a bit more light and airy than the Golden Book stylization of Mary Blair, Mel Crawford and company. Most of his books were done in the Fifties and Sixties. This Japanese website has a lot of thumbnail sized images from his books and is worth a browse.
> Eddiemuerte (a.k.a. MUCHA LUCHA’s Eddie Mort) has finished a new music album LO-FI IN LOS FELIZ and you can download all fifteen tracks for free HERE. The songs are short, tightly constructed electronic compositions (synthesizers, samplers and grooveboxes) inspired by varied strands of pop culture like Coney Island, Chupacabras and Jack Cole’s Plastic Man. Plus there’s a cool CD cover by Lili Chin.
> Animation director/designer Ward Jenkins not only dissects the visual deficiencies in THE POLAR EXPRESS, but actually goes so far as to fix the expressions on the characters via Photoshop. Check out his excellent thought-provoking post on the Ward-O-Matic. On a sidenote, a number of people have actually recommended that I check out the film on an IMAX 3D screen. Apparently, the film becomes slightly more watchable with 3D glasses. For example, Mark Bunker, who has seen the film in both flat and IMAX versions, writes, “I’m a sucker for 3D. The snow falling in the audience, the amazing vistas, the details of the dirt under the fingernails on the hobo or the icy sludge built up under the engine as it careens to a stop out into the audience. None of this forgives the story weaknesses but it does add up to a worthwhile experience in the theater. One which was greeted by a round of applause both times I saw the film.”
Katie Rice, currently a designer at Disney TV Animation, has updated her website with a bunch of nice girl drawings. Worth a Sunday browse. Go HERE.
I haven’t seen THE LIFE AQUATIC yet, but last I heard the film’s animated sequences were created with stop motion by Henry Selick and company. Apparently nobody bothered telling this to A.O. Scott at the NY TIMES since he refers to the “computer-animated fish” in his review of the film. Animation director Ben Zelkowicz, who pointed out the TIMES gaffe, notes: “But I like Scott’s idea of a double bill with SpongeBob – two underwater themed movies within a month featuring stop motion. Most stop motion has been relegated to the sad realm of Christmas nostalgia. Perhaps this is a sea change.”
Seward Street reports that Disney/DreamWorks animator James Baxter (Belle, Quasimodo, Moses) is starting up his own hand-drawn animation studio in Pasadena called James Baxter Animation. Exciting!
This article at MILLIMETER reveals how Brad Bird was able to inject a hand-drawn sensibility into THE INCREDIBLES. Pixar developed a new tool especially for Bird called “Review Sketch,” which allowed him to draw on top of a projected image using a digitizing pen. These drawings were then accessible on the studio’s intranet by other members of his team. DreamWorks animator Jim Hull discusses the tool further on his blog, Seward Street.
This holiday season, the Walt Disney Company is offering twenty of their greatest animated classics on DVD, for less than $1 per film. Let’s see…there’s ALADDIN and JUNGLE BOOK and CINDERELLA and SLEEPING BEAUTY and ALICE IN WONDERLAND and… hey wait… wait one second! I don’t remember the Genie from ALADDIN being yellow? And since when does Ariel from THE LITTLE MERMAID have a pet dolphin? Could it be that another company is producing animated films based on the same public domain fairy tales that Disney uses. Geez, what are the odds of that happening? On a related note, I’m wondering if any states consider it child abuse if you force your kids to watch these GoodTimes versions of Disney films.
Here at Cartoon Brew, we are pleased to present this exclusive remembrance of animation/illustration legend J.P. Miller, who recently passed away at age 91. This is the eulogy that was delivered at Miller’s funeral. It is written by his brother, George Miller, and is reprinted with kind permission from the family.
A Remembrance of John Parr Miller
by George Miller
Thank you for coming to honor John. I’m glad to see that some of you here were fortunate in growing up under the spell of “Uncle John,” that surprising adult who was in some ways a child, too. John, himself, was fortunate in having many such nephews and nieces — whether or not there was a blood connection.
There are others here for whom John’s Turtle Bay apartment served as an oasis while running errands in the City. And at twilight, a haven where talented, amusing and gentle people gathered to entertain one another. We might hope, too, that in this large and airy church there may be room for the spirits of John’s many life-long friends who have passed on before.
So, let us now remember John Parr Miller — not in the garb in which he left us — but as he was when we were all much younger.
Not all of you know that his start in life was unpromising and often painful. His adored mother died when he was fourteen — and six years later his father followed her. Also, John was embarrassed by his own height, which never topped five-foot-five. A victim of school yard bullies, he was sure — well into his adult life — that his physical stature would mark him for failure.
Although John had an inquiring mind, it was generally out of synch with school curricula, and I’m not certain that he ever earned a high school diploma. This fact will come as a surprise to those who remember the hundreds and hundreds of volumes he amassed, his sizable music library and the boundless range of his intellect.
As we all know, John’s handicaps — whatever they were –melted before his passion for art and the merciless eye with which he judged his own work.
So, in the company of his new family — that is to say, my widowed mother and my two-year-old self — he headed out to Hollywood, during the depths of the Great Depression. My mother shoved this retiring young man out the door with the portfolio he had assembled in art school and told him to find work. And he did. With Walt Disney’s budding studio, only four years after the birth of Mickey Mouse.
John was assigned a place among the rows and rows of drawing boards occupied by those at the bottom of the food chain — the in-betweeners. The reason there had never been a full length cartoon feature until Snow White was that producing even the usual five-minute short entailed enormous toil. Film races through a movie projector at 24 frames per second, and every one of those frames must be painted. If an animator were to draw a figure with a raised arm and then again with the arm lowered, the in-betweener (John) filled in all the intervening positions. So, John, who in his school days had been looked after by a butler, a cook and a maid, now found himself on the assembly line in what was known by all as the “black hole.”
Fortunately, the magnitude of his talent was quickly recognized, and he soon escaped that drudgery, climbing successive rungs until at age 24 he was tapped as one of the three founding members of the elite Character Model Department. Its purpose was to bring Snow White to completion and conceptualize the string of features that would follow. That meant designing the characters and providing other Disney artists with a vivid sense of the mood and atmosphere of each movie’s settings. To quote one film historian…
A member must have a knowledge of the architecture of all periods and nationalities. He must be able to visualize and make interesting a tenement or a prison. He must be a cartoonist, a costumer, a marine painter, a designer of ships, an interior decorator, a landscape painter, a dramatist, an inventor and an acoustical expert.”
Disney couldn’t have found a better man than John. He contributed in this fashion to every feature from the historic SNOW WHITE to PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA, DUMBO, THE RELUCTANT DRAGON and SALUDOS AMIGOS. Disney was famously reluctant to credit work to others. And likewise, John hated to acknowledge anything he ever did for Disney.
Most of you got to know John after his tour in the Navy making training films. That’s when he cut himself loose from Disney and asserted his own style as a freelance illustrator.
George Duplaix, the founder of Golden Books, recruited John and several other Disney veterans to join the revolution he was fomenting in children’s literature. He wanted to open up a mass market and to enlist artists who would bring a fresh and exciting style to the field — beyond the blandness of “Dick & Jane” primers. The idea caught on, and other publishers jumped in, churning out hundreds of titles — many with the shelf life of a mayfly. But not John’s. He never made a deadline on time. And he never turned in a book without first working all through the night. Because in his eyes the work was never good enough.
That perfectionism remains his legacy. Even though it’s been ten years since he completed his last book, his work is so timeless that six titles are still in print. One of them — first issued 50 years ago — has become Golden’s number 3 best seller since its recent reissue. Three more titles are soon to be re-released. And another 41 enjoy an active after-life as used books on the Barnes & Noble website. This month the Donnell Library (opposite the Museum of Modern Art) displayed John’s work as one of the pioneers of the Golden Books revolution.
Although no obituary has yet appeared [note: since this was written, the NY TIMES has published one], the word has spread, and I’ve received letters from other artists that neither John nor I have ever met.
One, Bob Staake, said…
As a child I was enthralled by J.P. Miller’s art. That I hoped I would grow up to become an illustrator as well is a testament to the inspiring nature of your brother’s talent. My biggest regret is that I never had the chance to meet JP face to face and tell him how his art affected me — and how it still does.
And from Dan Yaccarino…
I am an illustrator and JP’s work has been a source of inspiration to me throughout my career. Whether or not he was aware of it, his work was brilliant. It continues to challenge me to push my own work farther. I just finished my first Golden Book and the most exciting part of it was that I am now able to be associated with the great JP Miller.
So, what should we — who did know John — remember of him. That just as John was not an “accidental” artist, neither was he accidentally charming. He applied the same insight and creativity to surprise and delight us. When he gave a child a piggy bank, he would include a sack of 100 pennies. When he borrowed a friend’s county house, he left in the back field a life-size cut-out of a reclining cow. When I — as a 15 year old transplant from Southern California — was invited to share his harbor-front apartment in Provincetown for a whole summer, the amenities included a small sailboat he had bought for me, sailing lessons at a nearby wharf and a neighborhood kid as a sailing pal, who is now my oldest friend.
During the long and difficult years that followed his marriage, many of you came to his rescue, opening your homes to him for extended stays and providing counsel and the comfort of moral support. Although John always doubted his own talents and magnified his modest failings, I hope that through these kindnesses returned he came to realize that –in all respects — he was a very worthy man.