Tomorrow evening, June 30th, the Animation Co-op will present the program “Mike Nguyen on MY LITTLE WORLD.” Animator/director Nguyen will speak about the making of his much anticipated independent animated feature MY LITTLE WORLD, and discuss his interest in hand-drawn animation as a form of expression. The presentation will include clips from the upcoming film as well as a Q-&-A session. Admission is free and the talk will begin at 7:30 pm at the Glendale Central Library. RSVP at the AnimationCoop.org.
I was planning to post a summary of the Flash & TV Animation panel that I moderated a few days ago at ASIFA-Hollywood’s 2D Expo, but panelists Lili Chin and Eddie Mort beat me to it with this extensive write-up posted on their fwak! blog. Going into the panel, I wasn’t sure what sort of a conclusion (if any) we’d reach with the discussion, but the panelists – the aforementioned Chin and Mort, along with Gabe Swarr, Bob Harper and Jorge Gutierrez – went a long way towards convincing me and the audience that Flash is the ideal production system for hand-drawn “cartoony” TV series. The biggest benefit of Flash, constantly stressed by the various panelists, is that it offers animation creators an unprecedented amount of control over their finished product and allows them to see their actual drawings reach the screen. Craig McCracken supported this theory in a recent ANIMATION MAGAZINE interview about his new Flash series for Cartoon Network: “You don’t have to worry about stuff being off-model. The animation is all going to look dead on, and you don’t have to worry about the layout process.”
Another conclusion that we reached is that it’s financially feasible to produce a Flash series entirely in the United States. While in the first couple seasons, a Flash production may cost as much as a TV series produced overseas, each subsequent season will decrease in cost as libraries are built up in Flash. This is something that never happens in the traditional TV production process, even on a show like THE SIMPSONS which is now in its umpteenth season. Also, with libraries built up of designs, background art and basic movements, the tedious grunt work is already completed thus allowing the animators to focus on creating interesting performances with the main characters. Even in the scenario that a show is outsourced to other countries, the artists in LA still maintain an advantage because rather than having to go through the laborious process of calling for retakes, Flash animation files can be fixed from any location with a minimum of hassles. For example, MUCHA LUCHA has an in-house animation crew in Los Angeles devoted to tweaking and finessing the animation that comes back from overseas. It remains to be seen how widespread the use of Flash will become in the LA animation industry, but it’s undeniable that Flash is responsible for one of the biggest shake-ups in the TV animation industry in recent times and it’ll be fascinating to watch how the union of Flash and TV animation will play out over the next few years.
Also I want to briefly mention how excited I was at the results of the 2D Expo, organized by ASIFA-Hollywood board member (and fellow Brew partner) Jerry Beck. I think the results went far and beyond anybody’s wildest expectations and I can see this event maturing into something truly special over the coming years. My immediate suggestions for next year are to create a larger exhibitor/networking area and to have more specific how-to panels and talks related to specialized aspects of animation production. All in all though, I thought it was a great success and it seems the majority of people who attended agree that it was a fine event. The most elegant and thoughtful write-up I’ve read about the event so far is courtesy of animation artist Ronnie del Carmen, who made the trek all the way from Pixar along with fellow filmmaker Jim Capobianco.
Wow, here’s a HUGE LOAD OF PHOTOS from this year’s Annecy Animation Festival. They’re courtesy of Joseph Gilland, a fine chap who I hung out with at the festival. He’s a veteran animation artist who was visual FX supervisor on LILO & STITCH and now heads the 2D and digital character animation programs at Vancouver Film School. His festival photos cover everything from the town of Annecy to the people, the parties and the final awards ceremony. I took only a fraction of the photos that Joe took, and I’m too lazy to post them, but here’s a shot of me sandwiched between two superb talents – Peter de Sève (left) and Bill Plympton.
Nice new interview with Mike Judge HERE.
Two interesting articles at AWN.com. First, a very useful SURVEY by Chris Robinson that asks independent animators a simple, yet crucial, question: “Where do you find the money to finance your films?” This should really become a regular series on AWN or somewhere else. Next is an ARTICLE by Deanna Morse, who was on the selection committee of this year’s recently concluded Zagreb Animafest (incidentally, another animation festival which I attended while in Europe and that I’ll write about shortly). She shares her experience of having to go through 1,500 entries in two weeks to come up with the 245 films which screened at the festival. One of the most interesting parts of the piece is where Deanna highlights “common tendencies” in the festival entries and creates a list of the recurring themes and characters in the short films that she saw.
Will Campbell has a funny story at blogging.la about working with the late Lorenzo Music, the animated voice of GARFIELD, at a suicide prevention center in the late-’80s. He presents a compelling case for why voice actors might want to think twice before volunteering as crisis counselors. [UPDATE: Mark Evanier, who produced the GARFIELD TV series, confirms and adds to the story about Lorenzo's volunteer work at NewsfromME.com]
Last time I saw Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero, genius founders of stop motion studio Screen Novelties International, they were telling me about this wacky project they’re working on that involved producing stop motion tests of Hitler, Mussolini and robots. I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but it sounded intriguing to say the least. Now Harry Knowles at Aint It Cool News has a big PREVIEW of the project-in-development, called AUTOMATONS, from the perspective of the writers: Ed Solomon (MEN IN BLACK, LEVITY) and Chris Matheson (BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE). And if it’s anything like Harry is saying it’s going to be, this could be one of the most outlandish and subversive animated features in years. You can bet I’ll be bugging Seamus and Mark to show me some of the animation tests for this project next time I see them.
What is surely to be one of the must-have animation DVD releases of next year. In early-2005, the National Film Board of Canada will release a seven-DVD boxed set of the complete works of Norman McLaren. The comprehensive set will also include drawings, tests, unfinished projects, archival materials and interviews with friends and colleagues. The NFB site about the DVD is HERE.
Mark Evanier has posted an important public appeal on his website about a vital issue that affects every American citizen: the upcoming DVD release of Hanna Barbera TOP CAT cartoons. Now personally, I could care less about TOP CAT on DVD, or anywhere else for that matter, but the historian in me says it’d be nice if somebody could help Mark make the set accurate from a historical standpoint. Help him out if you can.JERRY BECK ADDS: To clarify, Warner Home Video is looking for 16mm prints of TOP CAT with the original network end titles. These prints, which are on the film collectors market, are usually in black & white with all ABC network commercials. Even if you have a bootleg video dub of these network prints, please contact us. We can use the credit information. We are also looking for similar network prints of the second season of THE FLINTSTONES.
In Robert Kohr’s Thursday Annecy report posted at AnimatorsUnite.com, he writes about the jubilant atmosphere of the screenings: the paper airplanes, the scream-along Rabbit/Carrot trailer, the open-air screenings and other sorts of craziness that went down at Annecy. The atmosphere that he so accurately describes is one of the things that’s most difficult to capture through the written word. The pure enthusiasm and joy for animation that I sensed in Annecy is one that I’ve rarely experienced in Los Angeles, even with all of our cartoon events and myriad animation artists living here. The last night of the festival, I was sitting in the “American Bar” next to some Annecy locals, including one named Francois who works as a webmaster for a French bank. Between his limited English, and my even more limited French, he managed to communicate to me how much he appreciates animation and how he wanted to thank all the artists who come to Annecy every year from around the world. Annecy is indeed something special; it’s a world-class celebration of the animated art form in a gorgeous setting and among wonderful people. Outside of the complimentary festival press pass, I paid for the whole trip out of my own pocket, and while it’s put something of a pinch on my finances, I don’t regret spending the money one bit. If you love animation, you owe it to yourself to visit Annecy at least once. Now for a few final thoughts from the festival…
Bill Plympton’s personality is so down-to-earth and unpretentious that it’s sometimes easy to forget that the man is an animation genius. I was reminded of his genius when I saw his latest feature, HAIR HIGH, which had its European premiere at Annecy. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most entertaining animated features I’ve seen in a long time. The film’s story is tight and engaging, the characters are appealing and well defined, and there’s an appropriately eclectic voice cast including Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Silverman, Keith and David Carradine, Martha Plimpton, Ed Begley Jr., Matt Groening and Don Hertzfeldt. But above and beyond all this, the primary reason for the film’s greatness is that it’s designed for animation from the ground up. Bill uses every square inch of the screen to create hilarious gags and sequences that can only be conceived and executed in animation. When a character plays football, the size of his football helmet is molded to match his outlandishly huge hair. When another character has a coughing fit, he doesn’t stop until his innards are oozing on the table in front of him. A car leaves behind a trail of flowers on the road to signify the happiness of the couple inside. Imagination and wit effortlessly flow throughout the film and dare I say, it’s Mr. Plympton’s strongest animated feature to date. As Rod (a character in the film) might say, “HAIR HIGH is really gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood.”
The fifth and final short film competition program at Annecy was pure excellence. The first four competition programs were hit and miss (with an emphasis on the miss), but nearly every short in the last program was solid. Among the more memorable films were CIRCUIT MARINE by Isabelle Favez, THE CRAB REVOLUTION by Arthur de Pins (which deservedly won the Audience Award), RAGING BLUES by Vincent Paronnaud, BID ‘EM IN by Neal Sopata and MOON by Andrea Pierri. The program was also home to the oddest film in the competition, the enigmatic IN by Philipp Hirsch. A significant portion of the audience, myself included, walked out in the middle of this 24-minute film. The Dada-ish looking short generated quite a bit of discussion during the last couple days of the festival and after speaking to folks who managed to sit through it, I regret not having had the patience to make it through the entire film. Also, a couple other films worth mentioning from earlier competition programs: UTSU-MUSUME SAYURI by Takashi Kimura which is about as twisted as animation gets, and Hisko Hulsing’s SEVENTEEN, a dark and entertaining hand-drawn animated short which falls visually somewhere between BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and MTV’S DOWNTOWN.
Saturday, the last day of Annecy, was a time to kick back and relax. Everybody recognized the festival was coming to an end and it seems a good percentage of festivalgoers decided to take it easy in anticipation of the awards ceremony and party on Saturday evening. In the afternoon, there was a wonderful picnic/peddleboat race by Lake Annecy. The hosts were the incomparable Nik and Nancy Phelps and an eclectic group of forty or so folks made it to the gathering. I’m sorry to report that the boat I was in arrived last in the race, despite the star peddling power of Bill Plympton and Ottawa festival director Kelly Neall. It probably didn’t help that we veered off course by over a mile. After the picnic, it was time for the Annecy awards ceremony. Assuming that it would be your typically overlong and tedious awards presentation, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to attending the event. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a beautifully orchestrated, briskly-paced Japanese-themed awards ceremony. After accepting their awards, the winners remained on-stage, sitting on Japanese-style benches and drinking tea, a fanciful touch that worked perfectly. The top two prizes went to Chris Landreth’s RYAN (Special Jury Award) and Mike Gabriel’s LORENZO (Grand Prix Annecy Cristal), both well deserving of their accolades. (And Mike gets bonus points for telling me he’s a regular Cartoon Brew reader.) The closing night party followed afterwards for a superb ending to an incredible week in France.
Here’s to all the awesome people I saw in Annecy last week: Barry O’Donoghue, David Verral, Patrick Smith, Rita Street, Georges Schwizgebel, Lance Taylor, Peter Lord, Kelly Neall, Biljana Labovic, Harald Siepermann, Joseph Gilland, Aron Steinke, Greg Araya & Julie (congrats you two!), Chansoo Kim, Don Duga, Adam Yaniv, Rajesh Chakraborty, Kevin Lofton, Jimmy Murakami, Dan Sarto, Heather Kenyon, Bob and Cima Balser, Giannalberto Bendazzi, Mike Barrier, Will Ryan, David Calvo, Marysia Nowaczynski, Ed Hooks, Signe Baumane, Jennifer Aujame, Celia Bullwinkel, Didier Pasamonik, Tony Tulipano, Jim Campbell, Fernando Pazos, Maryam Fahimi, Mike Gabriel, Raul Garcia, Robert Kohr, Bill Plympton, Felix Gonnert, Claudia Romero, Reglan Brewer, Evelien Hoedekie, Hisko Hulsing, Dick Roberts, Gene and Zdenka Deitch, Nik and Nancy Phelps, Tomm Moore, Paul Young, Emad Hajjaj, JJ Villard, Wouter Sel, Meren Imchen, Jamie Badminton, Jo Jurgens, Andrew Park, Peter de Seve and many many others. See you in Annecy next year!
Here’s an interesting poster I ran across in Annecy. It says “The Lion King is Coming to Disneyland.” And, of course, what better way to promote THE LION KING than to have Captain Hook hanging off of a building? I’m still scratching my head over this one.
There was an older gentleman sitting in front of me on the bus a couple days ago, and he was talking to some other folks about Harry Houdini. For some reason, I felt compelled to take a glance at his name tag and find out who he was. It turned out to be none other than the legendary Jimmy Murakami, UPA veteran, independent filmmaker, and longtime animation director in the UK of, among many other projects, WHEN THE WIND BLOWS. That’s the great thing about festivals. You never know who you’re going to meet, but it’s guaranteed to be somebody interesting. I’ve met a bunch of great artists over the past few days including BLAST readers Lance Taylor (whose TV pilot MONSTORIES is in competition) and Jamie Badminton, who is working at Vanguard Animation on VALIANT. I also had a chance to chat with Tomm Moore and Paul Young of the exciting Irish cartoon studio Cartoon Saloon, and fellow Irish studio head Barry O’Donoghue, who produced Teddy Newton and Bert Klein’s BOYS NIGHT OUT and has some other interesting shorts currently in production at his studio Barley Films. Just a few of the other folks I’ve met: animation designer Harald Siepermann from Germany, animator Joseph Gilland from Canada, Vancouver Film School students Aron Steinke and Adam Yaniv, San Francisco musician Nik Phelps, and his wife/producer Nancy, who both do an admirable job of promoting indie animation, and the New York cartoonist contingent (Patrick Smith, Jim Campbell, Celia Bullwinkel and Robert Kohr of AnimatorsUnite.com).
Sleep is not part of the schedule at a festival like Annecy. With the exception of one night where I managed a full twelve hours of sleep, all my other nights in Annecy have only generated 3-4 hours of shut eye. But the opportunities to meet all the people mentioned above among many other fine folks more than makes up for the lack of slumber. To give an example of the type of activities available here in Annecy, in the span of the last 24 hours, in addition to watching films, I’ve been to an intimate late-night gathering at the picturesque ANIMATION MAGAZINE villa, a fun little picnic by Lake Annecy with animation folk like Bill Plympton, Georges Schwizgebel, Signe Baumane and Patrick Smith, and a late-night gathering at the incredibly packed “American Bar,” a Scottish pub where mostly English-speaking folks hang out when there’s no other parties going on.
I’d originally planned to write daily reports from Annecy, but there’s so much to see and do here that I’m not exactly finding a whole lot of free time to post daily. What I’ll try to do is post odds and ends about the films I see and people I meet while I’m over in France.
Annecy: I’ve really enjoyed walking around the “old town” area of Annecy, a wonderful maze of narrow streets and perfectly “aged” buildings, perhaps a bit Disney-fied (it seems they construct the facades of the new buildings to look weathered), but nevertheless quite pretty. I’d post photos, but I opted at the last moment to leave my digital camera back home. Photos from my throwaway camera will be posted upon my return to LA. I also inadvertently got lost in the residential areas of the city (Annecy and its surrounding areas have a population of over 100,000 so it’s not exactly a tiny town), and it ended up being a nice way of seeing parts of Annecy that I otherwise may not have had an opportunity to see. I’m planning on getting lost again sometime later in the week to see more of the city.
On Sunday evening, my first night in town, I had a pleasant dinner with Ed Hooks, author of ACTING FOR ANIMATORS. Ed, an actor himself, told me about his next book which he’s just finishing up and it sounds wonderful. For this second volume on animation acting, he’s selected around a dozen animated features, both classic Disney and modern features (including CG and anime), and he’s writing an in-depth analysis of the acting in each of these films. Should be a valuable book for animators.
TOKYO GODFATHER: Like Satoshi Kon’s earlier film MILLENNIUM ACTRESS, this opening night film of the festival also whisked me away into a deep slumber. But that’s not the surprise. Following the film, I ran into animation legend Ray Harryhausen at the opening night party, and we chatted for a bit. He asked me what I had thought of TOKYO GODFATHERS and I admitted that I fell asleep during the film. Ray then gave his review of the film, and in the process showed me why he’s a legend: because he has great taste. Ray said there was absolutely no reason to produce GODFATHERS in animation because it didn’t take advantage of the medium. He also pondered why the filmmakers had designed all the characters to be so unappealing and ugly. I didn’t think there was any way I could have more respect for Ray Harryhausen than I already did, but he showed me a way.
Films: Watching animated shorts is of course one of the main reasons for attending any animation festival and I’ve already seen a handful of good ones. Two highlights have been the impressive CG film RYAN by Chris Landreth (about the life of NFB animator Ryan Larkin) and Mike Gabriel’s LORENZO, which artfully shows the undiscovered potential of blending hand-drawn and digital animation. (For more on these films, check out Mark Mayerson’s comments on RYAN, and Jerry Beck’s thoughts on LORENZO). Roy Disney was in the house for one of the screenings of LORENZO and he received thunderous and lengthy applause. I’ve also enjoyed CALPYSO LIKE SO by Bruno Collet (France) which is a stop motion piece about Robert Mitchum’s quest for an Oscar. Fellow Annecy attendee Will Ryan pointed out that the storytelling in the film was a bit confused, and I agree, but any fan of Mitchum films like NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, THE LONGEST DAY and CAPE FEAR will get a kick out of the film. I’ve laughed hardest at PLASTICAT by Simon Bogojevic-Narath (Croatia). The film’s CG characters are fairly crude, but they are well animated and the concept is great. It takes the cliche of good and evil fairies, which appear above character’s shoulders in countless cartoons and live-action films, and skewers the idea to its ultimate extreme. FRANK AND WENDY HUNGERBURGER from David Snowman (Estonia) was also quite bizarre and funny – something about an evil plan to implant electronic chips into hamburgers to make people want to eat more burgers, the “axis of evil,” and a fly that saves the day. I’m still trying to figure it out.
More to come…
Here’s a website that looks quite promising: AnimationMentor.com. The concept is an on-line animation school where students can receive personalized animation instruction from pros working in the industry. There’s only a preview video up right now, although I’m told the site will begin accepting students this Fall. Not only does the concept seem well thought out, but the creators of Animation Mentor are all animators actively working in feature animation which means the instruction should be first-rate. If the preview video is any indication, they’ve gotten a lot of their industry co-workers backing the project and they’re aiming to offer a serious alternative to traditional animation schools. Definitely something to keep an eye on. (Thanks to Ted for letting me know about this)
In the forthcoming GARFIELD movie, the filmmakers have apparently made the bold decision to have CG Garfield be afflicted with Down Syndrome. You can see more stills of Down Garfield at Cinema Confidential. Now if somebody could just tell me what genetic condition is affecting the mo-cap humans in the CG film POLAR EXPRESS. (link via Animated-News.com).