A pleasant surprise arrived in my mailbox yesterday: a copy of the new documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony directed by Laurent Malaquais. The project raised $322,000 on Kickstarter last year, making it the second-most funded documentary in the crowdfunding site’s history.
The title tells you everything you need to know about the film, which surveys the unexpected fandom that has formed around the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Screen time is allotted to a wide range of individuals who identify with the fandom, including Bronies who serve in the U.S. military and Bronies who live abroad in countries like The Netherlands, Germany and Israel. Friendship is Magic creator Lauren Faust, and voice actors John de Lancie and Tara Strong participate in the documentary; they are credited as executive producers along with Michael Brockhoff.
I haven’t had a chance to watch the whole thing yet, but considering my association with the fandom, I’m looking forward to learning more about it. If you want to see the film for yourself, various DVD/Blu-ray/digital download options are offered at BronyDoc.com.
DreamWorks’ The Croods opened in first place at the U.S. box office with $43.6 million. That is almost the exact same opening as Chris Sanders’ last film, How to Train Your Dragon, which opened with $43.7 million in 2010. It is also much stronger than the studio’s last film, Rise of the Guardians, which earned $23.8 million during its opening weekend last November. The Croods netted an additional $62.6 million from its foreign debut. Russia, which as we’ve established is crazy for DreamWorks animation, was the film’s top foreign market and generated $12.9 million in box office earnings.
In other box office news, The Weinstein Company’s Escape from Planet Earth is winding down its theatrical run. It grossed $477,522 in its sixth frame, upping its total to $53.4 million. GKIDS expanded Goro Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill into 6 theaters and grossed $59,693. The film’s two-week U.S. total stands at $131,927.
Nearly 600 people took our Croods box office poll which asked readers to guess how much the film would earn during its opening weekend. The correct choice—$42-44 mil—was the sixth most popular answer, guessed by 7.35% of readers. Here were the top five guesses:
10.93% of readers guessed $38-40 mil
10.04% of readers guessed $40-42 mil
9.5% of readers guessed under $25 million
8.78% of readers guessed $36-38 mil
7.53% of readers guessed $30-32 mil
The half-hour pilot, titled "Sally in Hollywoodland," was recorded June 3, 1947, but apparently never went beyond this single test episode. Highlights include a creepy-sounding Woody at noraml recording speed, as well as performances by Billy Bletcher and a young June Foray. Had the show gone into production, it would have been the first time the Lantz characters appeared on air.
The show features Norma Jean Nilsson voicing the human protagonist Sally, Theodore Von Eltz as Woody Woodpecker, Billy Bletcher as Wilbur the Wolf, June Foray as Oswald the Rabbit, Sarah Brenner as Andy Panda, and Herb Lytton as Wally Walrus.
The 16th edition of the Holland Animation Festival wrapped up earlier today in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Hisko Hulsing’s Junkyard won the top prize for Dutch animation, while Jérémy Clapin’s latest film Palmipedarium took home the festival’s top prize for narrative animated shorts.
The Short Film jury was comprised of Gabriella Giandelli (Italy), Steven Subotnick (United States) and Marc James Roels (Belgium). The Feature Film jury consisted of Hans Walther (Netherlands), Luca Raffaelli (Italy) and Frans Westra (Netherlands). Student Film jury was Marc Bertrand (Canada), Chris Sullivan (United States) and René Windig (Netherlands), and Dutch prize jury was Nik Christensen (UK/Netherlands), Ton Gloudemans (Netherlands) and Dennis Tupicoff (Australia).
This one is new to me. The Picasso Summer is a 1969 feature based on a Ray Bradbury short story. It includes an impressively lengthy animated sequence based on Picasso’s artwork that holds up on its own.
The animation is credited to Wes Herschensohn, who was a producer on the film and also an animation veteran. But this in-depth article about the film claims the animation was produced by John and Faith Hubley. Based on the style, it’s entirely plausible that the Hubleys provided the animation, though I’ve never heard of them being associated with the project. Whoever made this, it’s a unique interpretation of Picasso’s artwork into animation, and deserves more attention than it has received.
When you invite certified Disney legend Walt Peregoy (Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, Sword in the Stone) to visit a studio, you never know what you’ll hear, but be prepared for plenty of salty language, politically incorrect views, and uncomfortable laughter from the audience. Here’s a recently unearthed video of the 87-year-old Peregoy visiting Walt Disney Animation Studios last year for an in-house exhibit of his artwork.
Peregoy, who gives new meaning to ‘extemporaneous’ speaking, offered some choice thoughts to his colleagues:
On Walt Disney:
Walt Disney was a shit…We made Walt. Walt didn’t make Walt. Walt was an asshole.
On contemporary animation:
There’s nothing on TV or on the screen that’s worth a shit. If I’m insulting some of you, I don’t give a shit, because it’s all shit.
On classic hand-drawn animation:
That was real animation. And even with all the technology [today], it still isn’t that good, is it?
On layout artist Ernie Nordli:
Great artist. Very humble. So humble he committed suicide.
On his role at Disney:
I take credit. Boy, if it wasn’t for me, Disney’s and all those features wouldn’t amount to a pile of shit.
On asserting yourself as an artist:
Producers want to be the one, and the art directors want to be the one. If any of you here are artists, assert yourself. I mean it…assert yourself. So tell those bastards to get off the pot…Each and every one of you have talent that you don’t even admit to, but take it in your own hands and run with it…Because who you are—your talent—is the most important thing in this world.
The next major animated release in the U.S. will be Blue Sky’s Epic, out on May 24th. Fox just released this new trailer for the Chris Wedge-directed film.
This trailer has a lot of the same shots from the original trailer, but it’s very different in tone. Also, Aziz Ansari’s slug character now says, “What’s going on, girl?” whereas in the first trailer he said, “What’s going on, babygirl?” This makes me wish so badly that I could have been a part of the meeting where they discussed the nuances of a slug saying ‘girl’ versus ‘babygirl.’
The trailer has the same top-level quality we’ve come to expect from Blue Sky—lush production design, appealing characters, funny bits of animation, and gorgeous lighting. Frankly, I’m always impressed with the individual elements of Blue Sky’s films, even if those elements never seem to add up into a satisfying film experience. But Epic looks promising, and I’ve got high hopes that they’ll pull it together into a solid package.
I’m sure DreamWorks had the purest of intentions when they enlisted their superstar animator James Baxter to teach children how to draw characters like Eep and Guy from The Croods. But we all know how these tutorials will be put to use by the Internet. (All links NSFW in the last sentence.)
They’ve even made a “Gran” tutorial for the gerontophiles:
And please, I beg of you, if you do anything smutty with this character, don’t show me:
Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang have been spokestoons for the insurance giant MetLife for nearly 30 years. The ads are rarely anything beyond the ordinary, but this latest one has an inventive conceptual approach that I liked.
Ogilvy & Mather-owned Redworks produced the spot, and Polish studio Platige Image provided visual effects/post work.
Director: Sam Tootal
Agency: Ogilvy + Mather
Production house: Redworks
Postproduction house: Platige Image
Producer: Kasia Chodak
Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco’s The Croods opens today in the United States along with over 45 other countries. Critics haven’t been particularly kind, and the film has a mild 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing). Typical comments include Richard Corliss in Time who complained that, “The family-dramedy genre that the film inhabits demands a bit more narrative ingenuity than is on display,” and Leslie Felperin in Variety who wrote that the film “adopts a relatively primitive approach to storytelling with its Flintstonian construction of stock, ill-fitting narrative elements.”
The good news is that mainstream audiences disagree with the critics. They’ve given The Croods a robust 87% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
So who do you agree with? Check out the film and report back here with your opinion in the comments below. As usual, the talkback is open only to those who have actually seen the film and wish to share an opinion about it.
Fans of Aleksandr Petrov (The Cow, The Old Man and the Sea) will appreciate this ad he created for Russian Railways using his trademark paint-on-glass technique. The spot celebrates the 175th anniversary of railways in Russia.
On Friday, DreamWorks Animation will release Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco’s The Croods, the company’s 26th feature. It will also be the first one released under their new distribution deal with Fox.
Box Office Guru predicts that Croods will open with a $39 million weekend. Box Office Mojo forecasts the film will earn between $40-44 million. Variety says the film is tracking north of $40 million, and even has a shot of reaching Wreck-It Ralph’s $49 million opening weekend. Not in question is that the film will be huge internationally. It opens day-and-date in over 45 countries tomorrow, and predictions are in the $300 million range for overseas opening weekend.
Now, it’s your turn. We are going to find out whether the collective knowledge of the animation community can accurately predict an animated film’s opening weekend. The poll below will remain open through Saturday early-afternoon. Read up on the links above, and then make your best guess for how much The Croods will gross on its US opening weekend.
Survey is now closed. Check back on Sunday for the results.
Tom Oreb is recognized by many as being one of the finest character designers during the Golden Age of Hollywood animation. Certainly, he was one of the most versatile. At Disney alone, he was the primary designer (or character stylist) of Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, Sleeping Beauty, Paul Bunyan and 101 Dalmatians, among others. He also designed Tex Avery’s Symphony in Slang, Destination Earth for John Sutherland Productions, and the infamous “stylized Mickey” for Disney’s TV commercial unit:
Earlier in his career, Oreb had been one of Ward Kimball’s primary assistants on Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, Bacchus in Fantasia and the crows in Dumbo. A stash of his drawings from this era (1939-1941) recently turned up on the Hakes auction site. The drawings had belonged to Oreb’s first wife, Bonnie Barrett, who unbeknownst to all, had been alive until recently.
Because many of these drawings were done for his wife, they hint at their marital spats, albeit in humorous fashion. Another series of drawings alludes to Oreb’s love of surfing and beach bumming at Newport Harbor and Laguna Beach in Orange County, California. One drawing features a guest appearance by Salvador Dali, and another shows Oreb with his gruff supervisor Ward Kimball.
Tom Oreb (seated) with Ward Kimball, March 1943.
Ward Kimball says to Oreb: “Listen Tommy Oreb! You and me is getting along see!”
This model sheet has been widely credited to Ward Kimball, but it was mostly drawn by Tom Oreb.
Tom Oreb says to Dali, “ Well, Salvador Ole Cat, I’m afraid that I don’t quite dig this jive——.”
“Tom Oreb—report to coffeeshop immediately—your coffee is served.”
Bonnie Oreb: “G-r-r-r-r-”
B. B. — Battling Barrett
Bonnie Oreb: “Listen—Tommy Oreb, when I’m mad, I’M MAD!”
Bonnie Oreb: “Tom Oreb, you irk me at times.”
“Will you be my Valentine”
“Will you be my Valentine”
“The Rescue of a sick whale at Newport Harbor, 1939.”
You can use and modify them in any way you like as long as it’s for a non-commercial purpose. Showreels, short films, indie games, all that stuff is cool – just give credit. If it’s web based – include a link to my site. I’m releasing these without a how-to (or support of any kind) but it should be very straight forward. They are extremely low-weight and easy to animate with, all are compatible with versions of Maya after 2010.
Starting with its title—Dziwne dziwy, czyli… Baśń o Korsarzu Palemonie—this Polish film is nearly impossible to explain. As soon as the title of the film appears onscreen, the letters of the title morph into question marks and exclamation points, which then melt into a flag adorned with a skull that is smoking a pipe. The skull emits pipe smoke out of its eye, which quickly engulfs the screen. Then, the sun breaks through and shines. And that’s just the first 10 seconds! Add another 30 minutes of uninterrupted surrealist insanity and you begin to get an idea of this incredible piece of film.
Krzysztof Dębowski (pictured left), a veteran of the Polish animation scene, was in the twilight of his career when he made this film in 1986. It’s a difficult film to classify because it doesn’t fit into any conventional timeline of animation history. Some of the character designs are a throwback to the blocky ‘cartoon modern’ style of Sixties and Seventies Eastern European animation, but the facial expressions resemble the crude graphic exaggeration of manga and the cartoonish painted stills foreshadow the Spumco style of the early-1990s. Such efforts to compare the film’s individual elements to other visual work are inadequate though. It is the totality of Dębowski’s vision that is so striking and utterly original.
Dębowski gleefully disregards the Western animator’s narrow-minded obsession with achieving the “illusion of life.” He breaks every rule that is sacred to the character animator and moves things however he damn pleases. His universe functions on the level of pure graphic cinema and exists exclusively on its own terms. Characters distort in grotesque ways, and they move in fits and starts that suggest human locomotion in only the most abstract sense. Dębowski has no use for things like perspective and instead suggests space through design and movement. Effects like waves, clouds and cannon fire are conveyed through gorgeous patterns of shapes and lines that move to their own unique rhythms.
The film is visually lush, but its heavy narration makes it difficult to decipher. I called upon Pawel Wieszczecinski, a film studies major at the New School in Manhattan as well as the founder of the Kinoscope film series, to explain what I was looking at. Here’s what he told me:
The title is “A Fairytale about Palemon the Pirate.” This particular film is based on a fairytale by a famous fable writer named Jan Brzechwa. His stories are generally aimed at young audiences. I even remember his fairytales from when I was a kid. He is definitely the most famous fairytale writer in Poland. This particular piece was written in 1956. It’s about a King who dies, but before he does so, he announces to his four daughters that the one who will overcome the Palemon the Pirate will get the crown. Palemon owns all the seas and his empire is enormous. Eventually one of King’s daughters, the ugliest one, conquers Palemon’s empire and she becomes the new Queen. But besides that, she also hooks up with Palemon and they get married.
Dębowski should be an animation legend on the basis of this film alone. Yet, I’d never heard of him until I randomly stumbled across this film during a late-night cartoon binge. Further searching yields absolutely nothing written about him in the English language. His lack of recognition in the West is a shame considering his prolific body of work. He started directing in 1960 at Studio Miniatur Filmowych and made dozens of films over the next thirty years. The only other example of his work that I can find online is this early piece called Wzeszło słoneczko.
Yesterday, DreamWorks released the full trailer for its summer feature Turbo directed by David Soren. If I had to cite a few positive qualities, I’d point out the simple appeal of the character designs, as well as the exaggerated range of motion and funny mouth shapes on the snail characters.
Last week at SXSW, Vimeo announced that Don Hertzfeldt will be among the introductory group of filmmakers to use their new Vimeo On Demand platform. Hertzfeldt has always been very selective about how he distributes his work online, which may be the first sign that Vimeo is doing something right with this new service.
Vimeo’s On Demand set-up is fully customizable. Films of any length can be distributed, and prices can be set by filmmakers as can viewing periods for films. Here are some of its key features:
90/10 revenue split: You keep 90% of revenue after transaction fees, and we cover all delivery costs.
Your audience can watch anywhere: Your work is available online, as well as on mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs, all in gorgeous HD quality.
Customizable design: You can completely personalize your Vimeo On Demand page to match your work and bring it to life.
Flexibility + control: Sell films, episodes, and more at the price you want, anywhere in the world you want — including on your own website.
I haven’t delved into all the particulars yet, but Vimeo On Demand appears to be quite filmmaker-friendly. The system isn’t perfect: for example, they might be better off with a credits-based system instead of the currently cumbersome pay-per-view model. But such issues are resolvable over time. The important thing is that Vimeo has spent years building a solid foundation including its elegant video player and a large userbase interested in independent filmmaking. Their On Demand service is a positive development, and has potential to be a game-changer for indie animators and filmmakers.
Today marks the 80th birthday of legendary animator, director and educator Richard Williams. Born on March 19, 1933, in Toronto, Canada, Williams may be (along with Hayao Miyazaki) the most important and influential living animator today.
His credits stretch across decades and include features (Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, The Thief and the Cobbler, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), TV specials (A Christmas Carol, Ziggy’s Gift), movie titles (The Charge of the Light Brigade, What’s New Pussycat, The Pink Panther Strikes Again), shorts (The Little Island, Love Me Love Me Love Me) and thousands of TV commercials.
He is the bridge between the Golden Age of hand-drawn animation and today’s endless stream of computer-generated blockbuster features. He has spent decades imparting the knowledge that he learned from the greats (Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick, Milt Kahl, Ken Harris, Emery Hawkins) to younger generations. For decades, he ran a studio that was as much a school as it was a production studio. Later, he traveled around the world to teach masterclasses, and more recently, he has reached his largest audience through the bestselling book The Animator’s Survival Kit.
His legacy in animation will be discussed for decades to come, as will his inability to finish his most ambitious feature film project The Thief and the Cobbler, but I would argue that his greatness does not stem from any single project. More than any film he made, it is Williams’ lifelong commitment to craft and his pursuit of excellence that will be remembered. He has unwaveringly promoted and upheld a standard of quality throughout his career, even during eras when such standards were considered unfashionable.
Williams’ ambition to create spectacular animation has always trumped all other considerations. Take the following commercial he single-handedly animated in six weeks:
In another animator’s hands, this would have been an instantly forgettable TV spot, but Williams turned it into one of the most breathless pieces of action animation ever committed to film, complete with dramatic camera motion, animation on ones, and exquisite rendering. In comical contrast to the prosaic product being advertised, the animation is an epic achievement.
Williams’ best work, be it commercials or fragments of The Thief and the Cobbler, offer an indescribably exhilarating thrill. It is the stuff that animation lovers live to see and of which we see far too little. One of Williams’ mentors, Art Babbitt, said, “Everything we’ve done up till now hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what animation can do.” Williams has been scratching away at that surface for the past sixty years, and has time and time again revealed new possibilities that were previously inconceivable.
You will not be disappointed by spending some time exploring Williams’ career output at the indispensable Thief Archive on YouTube, including this peerless sequence of pure visual excitement from Thief and the Cobbler:
Rhythm & Hues recently had a booth at a job fair at Taichung’s National Chung Hsing University, where it was recruiting special effects engineers, 3D animation artists and other creative personnel. Starting salaries for new graduates at the Taiwan studio are roughly in the range of $250-per-week, according to the China Post.
In the late-1930s, Walt Disney enlisted German architect and industrial designer Kem Weber to design a state-of-the-art animation studio from scratch. Weber oversaw every detail of the new Burbank studio from the exterior architecture of the buildings to the Streamline Moderne design of the furniture, desks, and appliances, to the custom typeface used on the studio’s signage.
The Burbank studio wasn’t the smashing success that Walt had envisioned, however. It felt cold and sterile to the artists who were accustomed to the cramped and comfortable charms of their old Hyperion digs. Animator Fred Moore complained to Ward Kimball one afternoon shortly after moving into the Burbank studio, “No distinction in the rooms.”
But more than the lack of charm, the Burbank studio’s ostentatious in-your-face luxuriousness suggested a certain tone deafness on Walt Disney’s part. It rankled the hundreds of artists who were struggling to get by on $15-per-week salaries, and who now realized that the company cared more about its films than the well-being of its rank-and-file employees. It hardly mattered to the artists that Walt had had to borrow money from the banks to pay for the construction of the studio. Labor tensions began to escalate just months after artists moved into the studio, and within 18 months, the nasty Disney strike that threatened to destroy the entire studio had begun.
Walt had miscalculated the desires of his artists. He thought they wanted a state-of-the-art facility to create animated films. The average Depression-era artist, however, would have been happier with a few extra bucks per week so that he/she could afford food and housing. Managing the competing interests of studio owners and artists is still a struggle in today’s animation industry, which is why the construction of Disney’s Burbank studio remains an especially instructive moment in the art form’s history.
Not About Us is a sensitively composed student film effort by Swiss artist Michael Frei:
The short is a symbolic staging of the complex dance of rapprochement between a man and a woman. A mechanical ballet flitting between black and white, light and dark and countless mirroring motions—until at last contact is made and a relationship develops.
Frei recently wrapped up the film’s festival run, which included screnings at Annecy, Hiroshima, Fantoche, DOK-Leipzig and the Krakow Film Festival. He is a graduate of HSLU (Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts), but produced Not About Us mostly during an exchange year at the Estonian Academy of Art under the mentorship of filmmakers Priit and Olga Parn. Frei kept this blog during the production of the short.