Ottawa ’04 has concluded and a complete list of winners can be found HERE. Grand prize for short film went to Chris Landreth’s RYAN and best feature went to RAINING CATS AND FROGS. Numerous other awards were handed out in other categories, and notably, no award was given in the Machinima category (wink, wink…hint). Personally, I had a terrific time at the festival and it seems that everybody else did too (well, everybody but the Machinima filmmakers). I’ll file a lengthy report upon my return to LA. At the moment, I’ve taken a little side trip to Montreal and have found a charming (and quite crowded) coffee shop on St. Laurent with wi-fi access (thanks for the tips Emru).
I’m off to the Ottawa Animation Festival, which starts this evening (it’s going to be a mighty long day). There’s an amazing line-up of programs scheduled for this year and I’m sure it’ll be an excellent time. I’m especially excited because I’m hosting the Fred Crippen retrospective which will be showing on Thursday and Sunday. Fred is an amazing animator and director, and he’s done it all over the course of the past fifty years from UPA and SESAME STREET to ROGER RAMJET and adult cartoons for HBO and The Playboy Channel. He even has a brand-new film, IMPROVING COMMUNICATIONS, premiering in Competition #1 and it’s a real hoot. I’m also moderating a “Meet the Master” session with Fred on Saturday afternoon and will be speaking on the panel “Your Criticism Sucks!” alongside Chris “Animation Pimp” Robinson, Richard O’Connor, Mikhail Gurevich and ANIMATION MAGAZINE’s Rita Street. There’s going to be fireworks at this one folks…at least I’m hoping so. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be blogging from Ottawa or doing a wrap-up report after the festival, but if the parties are anything like Annecy and Zagreb, don’t expect to hear from me until after the fest. If you see me up there, give me a shout. Here’s what I look like.
Fascinating article (and delightfully grotesque editorial art) in the EAST BAY EXPRESS about Pixar’s continuing battles with the city of Emeryville as they attempt to expand the size of their studio. The piece reports that there’s now a measure opposing Pixar’s architectural plans on the November Emeryville ballot. Regardless of the studio’s expansion woes, after seeing this new INCREDIBLES trailer, I can assuredly say that Pixar has created the best American animated feature of 2004. Granted, when your competition is SHARK TALE and HOME ON THE RANGE, that’s not saying much, but Brad Bird’s latest looks truly sumptuous and certainly one of the most entertaining animated features in years.
(Thanks to Karl Cohen for the article link.)
Appealing graffiti art HERE. Fafi is a French artist who specializes in drawing cute girls. Her work reminds me a bit of Katie Nice and Junko Mizuno, and for the most part is solidly drawn with creative flourish to spare. Fafi will be having a gallery show in LA at four x four opening on Friday, November 12. (link via Jared Chapman)
Illustrator Mark Frauenfelder’s recent post on Boing Boing about the forthcoming Jim Flora book is a reminder of what a wonderful time it is for aficionados of mid-century cartooning and animation. In the past couple years, there have been books dedicated to the work of Flora, Gene Deitch and Mary Blair, and there’s still more to come. I’ve heard that a Maurice Noble coffeetable book is in the pipeline, and I’m personally working on a comprehensive volume about Fifties animation design which will be published by Chronicle Books in 2006.
Milt Gross’s graphic novel HE DONE HER WRONG (1930) is examined in this ARTICLE at Indy Magazine. Somebody really needs to publish a good bio/art book documenting the vastly underrated work of Gross. For the time being, Shane Glines is posting a lot of Gross’s finest cartooning on his subscription site CartoonRetro.com.
Gary Owens, the voice of Roger Ramjet, Space Ghost and Powdered Toast Man, has a new book out called HOW TO MAKE A MILLION DOLLARS WITH YOUR VOICE (OR LOSE YOUR TONSILS TRYING). While mostly a how-to on becoming a voice-over artist, the book also includes anecdotes from Owens’ legendary career in film, TV and radio. Scott Shaw! points out on Animation Nation that next Wednesday, September 22, Gary will be doing a signing of his new book from 7-9 pm at Dutton’s Bookstore in North Hollywood (5146 Laurel Canyon Blvd.). And Scott hints that some of Gary’s friends with last names like Freberg, Winters and Conway may show up for the signing. I’d certainly be there if I wasn’t going to Ottawa.
Here’s an ARTICLE from Frank Thomas’s hometown paper, the LA CANADA VALLEY SUN, with remembrances from Disney folk like Andreas Deja, Andy Gaskill and Howard Green. Not an essential read, but worth a look for Thomas fans.
Nice article in this week’s SEATTLE WEEKLY about indie comic publisher Fantagraphics. The piece relates that in the 28-year history of the company, they’ve been on the brink of bankruptcy numerous times, but the company is currently enjoying relative stability as a result of their deal to publish the complete run of Charles Schulz’s PEANUTS. The first volume of PEANUTS has sold over 100,000 copies in only four months of release, already more than any other title in Fantagraphics history. And the success of Fantagraphics is great news for everybody because it means they’ll publish other cool comic/illustration books like THE MISCHIEVOUS ART OF JIM FLORA, which should be shipping any day now. (via Boing Boing)
A few DVD’s of note that I’ve received in the mail recently:
Politics and animation always seem to mix nicely, and the on-line short BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A JOB? is no exception. The film is a not-so-friendly indictment of Bush’s presidency, executed in classic black-&-white ’30s cartoon style and it’s now available on DVD for $8 ($6 + $2 shipping/handling). There’s a limited run of 200 copies.
The fine folks at fluorescent hill sent me a reel of their latest work and it’s a variety of stylish hand-drawn, stop motion, live-action and mixed-media works. Fluorescent is a Canadian collective of directors/animators comprised of Mark Lomond, Darren Pasemko and Johanne Ste-Marie. About their films, Lomond says, “Our work falls somewhere in between indy music video…independent animation…and sell outs…but generally accepted by none of those circles.” I especially enjoyed the music video “Joey” and their opening for the Montreal Student Film Festival. You can see their work at fluorescenthill.com.
It took me a couple weeks to decide whether I even wanted to put this next DVD into my player, but I finally took the chance and THE MEATY MCMEAT SHOW is indeed a most unique experience. It’s like SEINFELD, except Jerry is Meaty McMeat, a diseased heart with a rotating eyeball, who discusses life and philosophy with his friends Spleeny McSpleen, Lungy McButter and Sticky McStick. I’m still trying to make my way through the whole film, but I’ll say one thing. We all have crazy ridiculous thoughts for films, but few of us ever follow through on them. Not only did filmmaker Nathan Smithe follow through, but he made a 90-minute epic of pure uninhibited insanity. The DVD is packed with extras, including a director’s commentary to end all director’s commentaries. It costs only $13 and it’s guaranteed to be a hit at your next party, especially if you follow the warning on the front cover (“Do Not Watch Sober”). This in-depth REVIEW at DVD TALK does an admirable job of trying to make some sense of the film.
Visual Culture recently released their first dvd, VISUAL STORYTELLING, which is a training video about how to tell stories in animation. I haven’t had time to watch the entire program yet, so I’m not in a position to offer a detailed assessment, but skimming through it, the program seems like a solid and concise, no-frills approach to teaching a commonly neglected aspect of animated filmmaking. If you want to improve your storytelling skills, this might be a good place to start.
Oscar Grillo writes this nice memory of how he was inspired by Duane Crowther’s work:
Duane was not only a great animator. He was a great guy… he was my mentor. Aged sixteen I started to work in animation in Buenos Aires. I played a practical joke (I removed the boss’s chair when he was about to sit and he fell on his ass…I was an idiot) and I was fired. I knew I blew my chances to work in animation for the rest of my life. I begged some people in another studio to let me stay with them for no pay. They had a showreel from an American studio named Robert Lawrence Animation. It was terrific…I looked at it frame by frame in the moviola and checked out some of their tricks and techniques. Suddenly I felt that I understood the mysteries of animation and design and I tried to put it into practice. The boss I had played the stupid trick on came to visit the studio and saw the work I was doing then and rehired me on the spot and I started to earn my living as an animator.
Many years later I visited Duck Soup in Santa Monica and through Lee Mishkin I met Duane. He invited me to a great lunch at Musso & Frank and asked me what got me started. I mentioned the Robert Lawrence showreel and he said “What commercials did they have on it?” I said “This and that,” and he said “I made them” so I discovered who was my inspiration and made me do it. God bless Duane, I miss his censoriousness and pessimistic views, but compared with what passes for optimism today he was a genuine and true optimist!
Every so often I see a piece of animation that completely knocks me out, a gem that I never even knew existed. This past weekend I saw such a film: BLUM BLUM. The 3-minute black-&-white short was a student film produced by Duane Crowther in 1949 while he was attending UCLA. Duane was born in December 1928 so he would have been only twenty years old when he made the film. An experienced animator would be proud to have his name on this film, so it boggles the mind that such a mature work was created by somebody who had never animated before. To put it into some sort of perspective, I don’t think that in all the years I’ve attended the CalArts year-end screenings, I’ve ever seen a piece of student animation that exhibits such an innate sense of timing and overall understanding of the animated form.
BLUM BLUM is difficult to describe in words and must be seen to be truly appreciated. It is set to a rather goofy novelty tune by Peggy Lee and seamlessly jumps back and forth between abstract shape animation and character animation. All sorts of innovative UPA-ish modernity are on display throughout the film such as animating a character’s line and shape separately and having a round character flatten out when he turns to the side. When Duane made the film though, UPA had only released a couple Fox and Crow theatricals so his modernist influences must have come from elsewhere. Not surprisingly he started working at UPA-LA shortly after he finished this film. In Gene Deitch’s on-line autobiography, he recalls how Duane was transferred to UPA’s New York studio:
Ted Bethune, the background painter, was a Canadian, and wanted to go home. That presented us with our first crisis, and I got on the phone several times with Steve [Bosustow], imploring him to send me a replacement. Orders were coming in, and we didn’t have a background artist. As my desperation mounted, Steve put his hand over the mouthpiece, but I could still hear him ask someone, “Can you paint backgrounds?”
“Uh-oh,” I thought. “What are we going to get?” Shortly, a handsome 20-year-old with bright black eyes showed up. He painted the worst backgrounds I had seen up to that time. “What else can you do?” I asked plaintively. I could not throw back a fellow Steve sent me.
“I have this reel I animated when I was 18,” he said. I led him into the projection room with no real hope. The animation was sensational. Here was a natural born animator! He became my star. He was Duane Crowther.
The reel that Gene is referring to is, of course, the film BLUM BLUM. It is a testament to Duane’s talent that he became one of two main animators at UPA-NY, the other animator being none other than the great Grim Natwick. Fred Crippen, who’ll be honored at the Ottawa Animation Festival next week, was given his animation training by Duane at UPA-NY and was his assistant animator for a couple years. Even though Fred hasn’t seen BLUM BLUM in nearly fifty years, he still distinctly recalls it as being a terrific film.
After working in New York for most of the Fifties, Crowther returned to LA where he worked on TV commercials for Filmfair, Quartet and Jay Ward Productions among other studios. In the late-’60s, he went to England to work on THE YELLOW SUBMARINE where he animated sequences with the Blue Meanies. In the Seventies, Duane established the commercial studio Duck Soup Productions with Roger Chouinard. He passed away in 1998.
Animator Mark Kausler who kindly showed me BLUM BLUM, and likely has the only copy of the film in existence, also worked with Duane for many years. At some point, I’ll have to bug him for more details about Duane’s work. He told me that after this student effort, Duane never made another personal film. Then again, when somebody achieves perfection on their first attempt, what’s the point of trying again?
Ward Kimball is the only animator I can ever imagine being caught up in this sort of stuff. This ARTICLE recounts Ward’s involvement with secret unreleased government footage of UFOs. Most intriguing, the piece says that in 1979 Ward publicly screened 15-20 minutes of animation from an unfinished Disney documentary about UFOs. Does this footage still exist? I’d love to see it.
Last month I sung the praises of Benjamin Ettinger’s anime blog AniPages Daily, but it’s worth doing again. During the past couple weeks, he’s posted an excellent beginner’s guide to the history of independent animation in Japan and it’s fascinating reading. I’ve managed to see a handful of the films he writes about including Tezuka’s TALES OF A STREETCORNER (thanks Mark), a retrospective of Taku Furukawa’s work at Ottawa ’02, a couple of Yoji Kuri’s films, and assorted bits here and there, but to be honest, until I read Ben’s pieces I had no idea how all these artists and films related to one another in the context of Japan’s indie animation scene. The story begins in this ENTRY, continues HERE and ends with this POST. If only every blog was this informative and entertaining. And while on the subject of Japanese animation, here’s a nice page that has a listing of all of Osamu Tezuka’s independent films complete with stills and clips. I’d really like to see PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION one of these days.