Mark Evanier offers more insightful thoughts about the contract renegotiations of the voice actors on THE SIMPSONS. I think ultimately we both arrived at the same conclusion: that the actors deserve more money.
BREW reader Gerit Vandenberg points out a rare small-press book currently posted on eBay: Neal Seymour’s novel RE-ANIMATING WALT. I’ve never heard of the book, but apparently it’s an amusing fictional what-if account of Walt Disney’s resurrection. Here’s Gerit’s description:
The book aspires to the innocent flavor of a Hardy Boys Mystery… Two young guys trying to make a buck working the janitorial night shift at a cryogenics lab accidentally hit the wrong switch with a mop handle, and presto! –unthawed living Walt. They whisk him home under the cover of night and nurse Walt back to human functionality. Walt then hangs out with the two lead characters and spins stories about the past and helps them film their own movie packed with Disney values.
I would love to see this concept realized into a film where Walt gets his revenge on Eisner with an electrical storm backdrop! The author also has a real penchant for technical details and he makes Walt describe the virtues of old Mitchell movie cameras. It’s a geek’s delight and a stupid, sloppy book. I love it!
Gerit also offers this dialogue excerpt from the part of the book where Walt is regaining consciousness…
“Am I in Heaven?” asked the patient whose voice was getting stronger and stronger by the minute. “It’s not quite what I expected. I didn’t go to church, but I always believed I was a Christian.”
“No, you’re in Studio City and we’re trying our best to warm you up,” said Tim.
(Thanks to Gerit for the news item headline as well. Couldn’t have thought of a better one.)
How do I feel about THE SIMPSONS voice actors asking for pay raises from $125,000 per episode to $360,000 per episode (or from about $3 million to $8 million per year), as well as demanding a share of the show’s profits? Frankly I think as talented as they are, there is no voice actor, not even the venerable Mel Blanc, who deserves that amount of money. Bear in mind, the vocal cast on THE SIMPSONS only puts in 6-7 hours of work per episode, which amounts to less than one month of labor throughout the year.
On the other hand, there’s no denying that the six principal voice actors – Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer – are the true stars of THE SIMPSONS. The animation and artwork are little more than a bland and formulaic stage for the writer’s precious one-liners and cloying pop culture references, which are somehow made more tolerable by the creative delivery of the vocal sextet. The show, which is still the second-highest rated program on Fox, earns the network $2.5 billion each year. And if this money doesn’t go to the voice actors, it also doesn’t benefit anybody else like the artists who toil on the show at Film Roman in North Hollywood or the animators who labor on it overseas. As Mark Evanier points out on his weblog, “The money the actors don’t get paid is money that the studio gets to keep…and even pay out in bonuses to people who have less to do with the show’s success than the actors.” Looking at it from that perspective, it seems that the voice actors are the lesser of two evils in this case, and more deserving of the money, although hardly the most deserving.
For more background on this dispute, here are articles from the NY TIMES and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER which explain the situation. Also this article from USA TODAY talks about the practical implications of the strike for fans of the show, and that’s a shortened 16th season of THE SIMPSONS. What I’m curious about is whether any artists at Film Roman have had to be temporarily laid off because of the strike, or whether there were enough episodes already in the pipeline to keep the production running smoothly?
Two of the special themes at the upcoming 35th San Diego Comic Con International (July 22-25, 2004) are animation related: the 75th anniversary of Popeye and the 90th birthday of Bob Clampett (as well as the 20th anniversary of the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award which the Con awards each year in Bob’s memory). No word yet on what special events they’re planning for these anniversaries. Also worth noting, two of the special Con guests this year are legendary voice actress June Foray and independent filmmaker Bill Plympton. Speaking of Bill, here’s a great interview with him on AICN where he offers his thoughts on the best way to get your film accepted into The Animation Show and explains the backstory of his new short film PARKING. He also offers the following quote, which serves as an elegant rebuttal to Mike Lazzo’s inane comments from an earlier post.
Bill Plympton: “Animation, for me, is the truest art form because the fantasies I have in my head really would be very difficult to do in live action. Animation seems to be the purest art form to expressing those visuals. And I must say they mostly are *visual*. I’m not a very good writer in terms of dialogue and scripting. I’m a visual person, and, for me, the subconscious of the brain really hatches these incredibly surrealistic and bizarre images.”
Here’s a gem of a quote from Cartoon Network’s Mike Lazzo, who heads up the network’s “Adult Swim” block:
“We knew adults really didn’t care about the quality of animation. With children, if you had something brightly colored and moving, you could make it go. But with adults, they become bored pretty quickly with the dancing brooms unless it’s exceedingly well done. From the start, words were more important than pictures.”
It is utterly astonishing for one of the top executives at a TV channel called CARTOON Network, which specializes solely in ANIMATION, to have the audacity to say that the very reason for the network’s existence is not a concern of his and that audiences also don’t care about it. So if the pictures are mere afterthought, then somebody kindly explain why the hell does Cartoon Network even exist?
Here’s an entertaining little interview with John Kricfalusi done a few months back on a Chicago radio station. John talks about the new REN & STIMPY episodes, and other things like how he first met Bjork and his involvement on the Heathcliff animated series in the Eighties. Download it here: PART 1 and PART 2. (Thanks to the website ‘Tweening with Meaning for posting this interview. Visit the site HERE.)
Continuing our Popeye news from a few days back, Fred Grandinetti (Popeye expert and author of the forthcoming book POPEYE: AN ILLUSTRATED CULTURAL HISTORY) is preparing a lecture on the subject: “How King Features Has Ruined Popeye.” The lecture will be given at a comic convention in Boston this summer and possibly at other venues. Here are the seven main points, based on his study of the audience’s perceptions over the years, of how the character has been ruined:
1 – Popeye switching from classic outfit to white sailor’s uniform
2 – The redesign of Olive Oyl
3 – The name change from Bluto to Brutus
4 – The poor quality of the TV cartoons produced by Al Brodax
5 – Popeye being used as mainly a product rather than as a character
6 – The decline in circulation of the comic strip
7 – Hearst Entertainment blocking the release of the Fleischer cartoons onto DVD/VHS.
If the still posted below of the CG Popeye is any indication, a number 8 can probably be added to this list too after the TV special airs later this year. Fred also writes that, “King has to realize that to ensure the on-going (not short-lived) success of their attempts to revive Popeye, they have to create good will among the fans. Corporate studios often forget this. I’m trying to use whatever influence I have on King to get them to give the fans what they want: classic Popeye on DVD (not more ’60s toons!)”
Here’s a link to an MP3 of the original recording of Dr. Seuss’ story GERALD MCBOING BOING, as narrated by The Great Gildersleeve (Harold Peary). The story was, of course, turned into a classic animated short by UPA in 1951. The site also has audio clips of vintage Bozo the Clown records, with the voice of Bozo provided by Pinto Colvig (Goofy). (Link via BoingBoing.net)
Here at the Brew, we frequently receive e-mails and press releases from various animation artists and studios around the world informing us of their latest animation projects. I recently received one from an animation director in Iran, Amir Dehestani, who wanted to let me know about a CG project that he’s directing, THE HOLY KINGS, which is comprised of 22 half-hour episodes that are also being edited into seven 80-minute made-for-TV features. The series, based on religious tales from the Koran and Torah, is one of the largest and most ambitious animation projects in Iranian animation history. It is being produced by Hoor Animation, in association with Saba Animation Company.
Being of Persian roots myself, I was curious to find out more about the state of the animation industry in Iran, or perhaps more appropriately, find out whether the country even has an animation industry. As it turns out, animation in Iran is quite popular, and the industry is growing quickly, with CG animation in particular experiencing the largest growth. No doubt the industry is still small, budgets are low, and the number of experienced artists is relatively few, but one thing the country has working in its favor is a lot of young individuals with an enthusiasm and passion for cartoons. Iran also has its own ASIFA chapter (now in its 17th year), a new monthly animation magazine PILBAN (the website is only viewable with a Farsi web browser), a major animation festival (currently in its third edition), and independent artists with their own websites like IlaSolomon.com.
What follows are a few questions that I asked Amir via e-mail about the current state of the cartoon industry in Iran. To see examples of his work, check out the Hoor Animation website.
Cartoon Brew: How many studios are there in Iran currently producing animation?
Amir Dehestani: There are only two major independent animation studios in Tehran who are devoted completely to producing animation, and they are Hoor Animation Association (founded in 1991 and for which I am working for) and Resaneh Fard. Of course the biggest name in Iranian animation is Saba Animation, but that is funded by Iranian National Television. At our studio Hoor there are about 40 animation professionals who are working in different fields – 3D & 2D, TV series & commercials. I don’t know exactly how many are working at Resaneh Fard, but I’d guess it must be around 15-20 people and they do only 2D animation for TV. They also recently completed a 2D animated feature about the prophet Joseph named THE SUN OF EGYPT that unfortunately did not do too well at the box office.
At Saba, there are probably about 200 animators and different animation-related jobs, and they work in 2D, 3D, stop motion and cut-out. Of course there are many independent animators working in the field but many of them are not animation professionals and create animation as a hobby or passion and receive their income from other kind of artistic (or non-artistic) jobs. In Iran, almost every TV station in the different states has an animation department but the quality of most of their works is not very good and the most important reason for that is the low budgets. Many of these people however are really talented and have a real passion for their work.
The other big name in Iranian animation is the animation department of IIDCYA (Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). In Iran we refer to this center as “KAANOON” and it is the oldest of the studios. I really don’t know how many people are working there, but they work mostly in traditional cel animation and stop motion. Kaanoon also puts on the Tehran Animation Festival.
Cartoon Brew: How much awareness is there in Iran about animation as an art form, and is there a lot of interest among younger individuals in pursuing animation as a career? Also how many schools are there that teach animation?
Amir Dehestani: There is a lot of awareness about animation as an art form in Iran and it has many fans. Of course the number of fans is still not comparable to the US, Japan or Europe, but there are many young adults and kids who are interested in animation, especially in computer animation. There is even an animation magazine, PILBAN, that has been published for more than a year now, so the future of this field is bright. At the present, animation is still a specialized field. In Iran there are only three universities that teach animation: The University of Radio & TV (BA degree), Art University (MA degree) and Tarbiat Modaress University (MA degree). I teach at the Art University currently and there is a lot of interest among students there. Additionally, there are some animation courses for other students who are studying cinema and graphics.
Cartoon Brew: What sort of animation is available in Iran to view, study and use for inspiration? Is it a lot of American animation, anime or other types of animation?
Amir Dehestani: Many kinds of major animated film resources are available for inspiration. All of the Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks/PDI films for example. There are not many anime resources available and it is hard to find. I’m a big fan of anime myself and I really enjoy the works of Miyazaki, Kawajiri and Otomo. Also I’m a big fan of comics – manga, fumetti, and bande dessine (Moebius, Bilal, Gimenez and Enrico Marini) but these kind of materials are almost impossible to find and I must say thank God for the Internet! Unfortunately due to the rarity of these materials, there is not much awareness about these artists here, and the animation and illustration books are difficult to find. One of the big resources is Internet websites on animation and illustration such as your site.
Thanks to Amir for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about cartoons in Iran.
A few interesting articles for today: here’s an INTERVIEW with background painter Ron Dias, who started at Disney during SLEEPING BEAUTY and has since worked on SECRET OF NIMH, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? and many other projects. Next, the NEW YORK TIMES previews DreamWorks/NBC’s FATHER OF THE PRIDE, in which the show’s writers talk about how the lion characters are going to make fun of Al Gore and Dick Cheney. All this cutting-edge comedy for only $2.5 million per episode. And finally, a REVIEW of a new art exhibit at the Maitland Art Center (Orlando, Florida) which presents the fine art of animation artists.
The upcoming mega-budget live-action monster movie VAN HELSING will be supported by an animated prequel released direct-to-DVD: VAN HELSING: THE LONDON ASSIGNMENT. Universal Pictures is also releasing another animated DVD in May – THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: DARK FURY – which bridges the gap between the live-action film PITCH BLACK and its sequel THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK which will be released theatrically in summer ’04. I mention these two animated works to point out the larger trend of animated films being created to specifically promote and support the stories of live-action films. Other recent examples include the ANIMATRIX and the forthcoming prequel to Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL series. I expect we’ll be seeing quite a few more of these projects over the next couple years, although it remains to be seen whether it’s a legitimate new outlet for animation or simply a temporary fad among “hip” live-action directors like Tarantino and the Wachowski brothers.
The new issue of THE COMICS JOURNAL: SPECIAL EDITION is well worth picking up. There are varying combinations of interviews with Al Hirschfeld, Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware: for example, a joint interview between Feiffer and Ware, Spiegelman separately interviewing Hirschfeld and Feiffer, and so on. Lots of good material to soak in. The issue also features a critical analysis of THE SIMPSONS, a look at an unpublished Jack Davis comic strip, an interview with WWII cartoonist Bill Mauldin who died last year, and a look at the work of early-20th century cartoonist/fine artist Lyonel Feininger. All this terrific material is contained within the first 100 pages or so. The second half of the 192-page book is hardly as inspiring, comprised mainly of comics from 31 different modern artists addressing the theme of “The Shock of Recognition.” Fortunately, the good is separated from the bad, and one can conveniently tear out the entire second half of the book without missing anything of value. Here’s the link to order the JOURNAL at Amazon.com.
Last night, during one of Lewis Black’s rants on THE DAILY SHOW, he did a great bit on the two deformed lumps that are serving as the mascots for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The characters – Phevos and Athena – are inspired by a 2,700-year-old Greek terracotta doll, but as Black put it, they look more like dicks in sweaters. What’s especially humorous is that it took two committees of painters and gallery heads to pick this design from 196 submissions. As the UK’s GUARDIAN reasoned, “Perhaps they were all having an off day.” The designer of these two blobs, Spyros Gogos, who is not surprisingly an ad agency creative director, says that he wanted the design to evoke, “The brotherhood of man, equality of the sexes and participation irrespective of victory.” Here’s a LINK to an animated commercial featuring these characters, an ARTICLE about how people don’t find these characters very appealing, and an amusing EDITORIAL by the GUARDIAN. Of course, this is hardly the first time an Olympic mascot has looked so silly (remember Atlanta’s Izzy?).
MUCHA LUCHA! creators Eddie Mort and Lili Chin have figured out what the next big trend in animation will be: Christian anime! Of course they’re joking, but you just know somebody somewhere is developing this for real right now. Also in their update yesterday, they posted some cool artwork from their new project ENDSVILLE, which Eddie describes as their “Kustom Kulture/Ed Roth is God” series. Check out their blog HERE.