The human desire to animate drawings may stretch further back (much further back) than a couple hundred years. French filmmaker/researcher Marc Azéma has published new research suggesting that the Paleolithic artists who created drawings in the Lascaux caves of France were also attempting to animate their drawings. There’s a subscription-only article about his theory on NewScientist.com. A shorter blog post and accompanying video below are available for viewing by all.
Animation can provide a fascinating window into the past. In the 1950s and 1960s, as cars became a fixture in contemporary life, animators made all kinds of films about automobile culture, exploring its history, its prevalence within society, its effect on human behavior, as well as its future possibilities and potential consequences. These films didn’t merely feature cars as plot devices, but made a satirical commentary on the institutions of driving and vehicle ownership.
Cars were on the minds of everyone during the mid-century, and animated shorts about them were produced by both mainstream studios and independent animators, as well as both in the United States and Europe. Many of the shorts, like Motor Mania, Automania 2000, and Autókor, offered a bleak perspective on car culture, while other films were bought-and-paid-for by corporations who had an interest in promoting automobiles: the Portland Cement Association sponsored Disney’s Magic Highway USA and Ford sponsored TVC London’s The Ever-Changing Motor Car.
These films are, of course, mostly valuable as historical markers. Today, as our environmentally-conscious world shifts into a post-auto culture, we worry less and less about the anxieties of driving and car ownership. The contemporary animator views cars through a different prism, one that is most effectively reflected in Pixar’s Cars. John Lasseter’s film no longer questions or considers the idea of the car, but rather offers a wistful nostalgic ode to the golden age of the automobile, a bygone era that can only be glimpsed by looking into the rear-view mirror.
Green Light Go!
Motor Mania (USA, Disney, 1950) directed by Jack Kinney
Car of Tomorrow (USA, MGM, 1951) directed by Tex Avery
There Auto Be A Law (USA, Warner Bros., 1953) directed by Robert McKimson
Four Wheels No Brakes (USA, UPA, 1955) directed by Ted Parmelee
The Jaywalker (USA, UPA, 1956) directed by Bobe Cannon
Magic Highway USA (USA, Disney, 1958) directed by Ward Kimball
Automania 2000 (UK, Halas & Batchelor, 1963) directed by John Halas
Autókor (Hungary, Pannonia Film Studio, 1964) directed by István Imre and László Réber
Ever-Changing Motor Car (UK, TVC London, 1965) directed by George Dunning and Alan Ball
Mr. Rossi Buys a Car (Italy, Bozzetto Productions, 1966) directed by Bruno Bozzetto
What on Earth! (Canada, NFB, 1966) directed by Les Drew and Kaj Pindal
Let us celebrate the final day of 2012 with inspiring visuals in the form of character designs and studies by animation legend Ferdinand Horvath (1891-1973). Horvath was a European émigré who moved to the United States in 1921 after spending much of World War I in Russian prison camps. He worked for six years at Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables studio before moving to Los Angeles. On the West Coast, Horvath worked at Disney where he contributed character designs, backgrounds, story ideas and gags to over sixty shorts including Father Noah’s Ark, Mickey’s Circus, The Band Concert, The Old Mill, Woodland Cafe, and The Cookie Carnival. He also made important contributions to the studio’s first feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Later, Horvath worked at Columbia’s Screen Gems studio and George Pal’s Puppetoons studio.
There’s some ugly stuff that can occasionally be found in the dusty bins of animation history. The Vintage Cinema Ads Facebook page uncovered a wildy inappropriate ad promoting Krazy Kat theatrical animated shorts. The double-meaning of this ad would have been more evident at the time of its publication in 1925 when the Ku Klux Klan claimed millions of Americans as members and exerted significant influence over American culture. Also, whoever made the was likely unaware—and most likely didn’t care—that Krazy Kat creator George Herriman was of mixed-race Creole lineage.
Three months before Toy Story was released, Pixar owner Steve Jobs took to the stage at the SIGGRAPH conference and explained why the film represented a major leap in film technology. It’s a rare bit of animation history that I was happy to discover on YouTube:
Keiji Nakazawa, the creator of the manga series Barefoot Gen, passed away on December 19th from lung cancer. He was 73 years old. His comic, which was adapted into animated and live-action features as well as a dramatic TV series, was inspired by his own experiences as a survivor of the American bombing of Hiroshima that killed over 100,000 people including Nakazawa’s father and siblings. For more details, Comic Book Resources offers a nice obituary about Nakazawa’s life.
Tel Aviv-based Ori Toor takes Flash concepts like looping symbols that other artists use for economic ends and subverts them into original artistic statements. His sinous, psychedelic loops in the video for Kingdom Crumbs’ single “Evoking Spirits” is quite unlike any other Flash animation I’ve ever seen.
Melbourne-based Peter Lowey, who is no stranger to Cartoon Brew, is really on to something with his creation Alfred Skimmy. It’s a well conceived mix of hilarity and discomfort packaged into one very odd-mannered individual.
This is the eighth Christmas we’ve celebrated on Cartoon Brew, and in all that time, we’ve never posted the holiday special Ziggy’s Gift. Today marks the end of your Ziggyless holidays. Ziggy’s Gift is quite charming, and the production values are far better than they need to be—especially considering that it was produced in 1982 and it’s…well…Ziggy. No surprise then that the director was Richard Williams and the animation supervisor was a 27-year-old Eric Goldberg.
Amsterdam-based animator Nigel Upchurch offered us Chirstmas Warmer, a 21st century interpretation of the Yule Log film. It’s a seamless loop so download the video from his Vimeo page and run it widescreen on your Cintiq this holiday season.
Andreas Deja is a modern-day animation legend. He worked for 30 years at Disney where he was responsible for classic characters such as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin, Scar in The Lion King, and Lilo in Lilo and Stitch. He left the studio a couple years ago to focus on personal projects, including producing independent animated films. This morning, Andreas teased audiences with a preview from his short film Mushka, featuring a girl and tiger as the lead characters. The film, which will be animated in a colored pencil style, is “a story of love and sacrifice set in Russia.”
On his blog, which also includes development sketches of the characters, Deja pointed out that he still has a long road ahead of him. He’s been working on story and pre-production this year, and plans to animate the film in 2013.
Japanese design studio Tymote has finally answered the age-old question: What if Wassily Kandinsky used Cinema 4D? A remix of Clammbon’s “Rough and Laugh” comprises the other half of the synaesthetic viewing experience.
Brace yourself for one of the most creative animation cycles you’ll see this side of the Fleischer brothers. Social Satan was created by UK-based Sculpture, a collaboration between Reuben Sutherland (animation) and Dan Hayhurst (audio). We’ve featured their unique work in the past, which is printed onto picture-discs and then spun like a record at different RPMs.
A fun holiday greeting from comic legend Stan Lee and his new YouTube channel World of Heroes. Two of the artists involved with the piece—co-director David de Rooij and background artist Jelle Brunt—produced the Cartoon Brew Student Festival winner Slim Pickings Fat Chances.
Written and directed: World of Heroes, Matt Cooper, David de Rooij, Danny Seckel
Music By: Matt Cooper
Animation, Cleanup & Color: David de Rooij, Pedro Vargas, Linda Tijssen
Background: Jelle Brunt
Voices: Stan Lee, Kevin McShane, Matt Cooper
Sound design: Brett Houston, David de Rooij
Let’s make one thing clear upfront: this post is not intended to be an indictment of Bill Joyce’s creative abilities. Bill is one helluva of a talent. His self-produced animated short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, won the Oscar earlier this year. He’s a bestselling children’s book illustrator and author. He co-created the successful preschool series Rolie Polie Olie that ran for six seasons. He has been instrumental in jumpstarting a burgeoning tech scene in Louisiana. You could comfortably call him a Southern born-and-bred Walt Disney, and not be accused of hyperbole.
The William Joyce brand has been uniformly successful across various media platforms—except for one arena: CG animated features. The irony is that no artist has had as much personal success in having his ideas transformed into computer animated films as Joyce. He has produced three big-budget animated films at three different studios—Blue Sky’s Robots, Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, and DreamWorks’ The Rise of the Guardians. A fourth is on its way—Blue Sky’s Epic.
Deadline reported earlier this week that DreamWorks may take a $45 million write-down due to the poor performance of Rise of the Guardians. The film has grossed a paltry $72.9 million dollars after 29 days at the U.S. box office, and likely won’t break $100 million at the box office.
To put that into perspective, only two other DreamWorks CGI films have failed to reach the $100 mil domestic mark—the studio’s first CG feature, Antz, which made $90.7 million in 1998, and Flushed Away which pulled in $64.7 million in 2006. (The latter film was conceived and largely produced at the UK’s Aardman Animations.)
The performance of Rise of the Guardians falls in line with the tepid performances of Joyce’s other films. The first animated feature that he produced (and production designed) was Blue Sky’s Robots in 2005. That film grossed $128.2 domestically. It ranks as the lowest-grossing Blue Sky feature to date. (In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the “art of” tie-in book for Robots.)
Joyce’s next feature, Disney’s 2007 effort Meet the Robinsons was based on the popular book A Day with Wilbur Robinson that he wrote and illustrated. That film grossed $97.8 million in the US, and is the lowest-grossing Disney feature in the John Lasseter-era of the studio. Neither Robots nor Meet the Robinsons performed well overseas either.
Joyce has maintained his reputation in feature film largely because the production process has been different on each film, as has his level of involvement. In the case of Robots, he didn’t write the script; he production designed the film and was intimately involved from a visual storytelling standpoint. The other two films have been based on his story ideas, but he hasn’t been involved as much visually as he was with Robots. The upcoming Blue Sky film Epic will be the first time that Joyce will both produce and production design a film that is based on one of his stories.
There’s also a strong argument to be made that Joyce’s involvement has nothing to do with the finished films. The films are only loosely based on his original ideas, and numerous other people mold the finished film besides Joyce.
For me, it begs the question: Why even use Joyce in the first place if studios deviate so wildly from his concepts. This was actually a lesson that Pixar learned the hard way. After Joyce had created concept art for Toy Story, Pixar invited him to direct an animated short at the studio. The experience didn’t end well, and all mentions of the unproduced short have been scrubbed from the studio’s official histories.
However, multiple people have told me that the experience with Joyce was instrumental in Pixar’s decision to develop film ideas in-house instead of working with outsiders and relying on pre-existing books or media properties as source material. Pixar, it has to be stressed, is absolutely unique in this regard; all other major animation studios have used pre-existing stories for their films, including Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Sony and Illumination. Pixar’s commitment to building ideas from scratch with artists who understand the medium best is among the reasons that the studio’s films are widely respected from a creative standpoint.
If this were baseball, Rise of the Guardians would have been Bill Joyce’s third strike in the world of big-budget CG-animated features. Thankfully, animation isn’t baseball, and Joyce will receive a fourth chance at CG feature success next May. Fox and Blue Sky’s Epic may prove once and for all whether there is such a thing as the “Bill Joyce curse.”
The Sundance Film Festival has announced their short film selections for the next edition of the festival, which will take place January 17-27 in Park City, Utah. The following ten films will compete in the animated shorts category:
Benjamin’s Flowers / Sweden (Director and screenwriter: Malin Erixon) — Lovelorn and lonely Benjamin lives on the blurry borderline between fantasy and reality.
Bite of the Tail / South Korea, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Song E Kim) — Life is a constant struggle for a husband and wife. She is suffering from stomach pain, and the doctor has no clue about a cure. Meanwhile, her husband is on his own journey of hunting a snake.
The Event / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Julia Pott, Screenwriter: Tom Chivers) — Love and a severed foot at the end of the world.
Feral / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Daniel Sousa) — A solitary hunter finds a wild boy in the woods and brings him back to civilization. Alienated by his strange new environment, the boy tries to adapt by using the same strategies that kept him safe in the forest.
In Hanford / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chris Mars) — This heartbreaking true story of a town poisoned by Cold War–era nuclear-arms manufacture is told through firsthand accounts and fantasy scenes, which empathize with the victim’s plight.
Marcel, King of Tervuren / U.S.A. (Director: Tom Schroeder, Screenwriter: Ann Berckmoes) — In this Greek tragedy – as acted out by Belgian roosters – Marcel survives the bird flu, alcohol, sleeping pills and his son, Max.
Oh Willy… / Belgium, France, Netherlands (Directors and screenwriters: Marc James Roels, Emma De Swaef) — Willy returns to his naturalist roots as he bungles his way into noble savagery.
Seraph / U.S.A. (Director: Dash Shaw, Screenwriters: John Cameron Mitchell, Dash Shaw) — A boy’s childhood scars his life.
Thank You / U.S.A. (Directors: Pendleton Ward, Tom Herpich, Screenwriters: Pendleton Ward, Tom Herpich) — A pack of fire wolves attack a snow golem in the forest and accidentally leave a cub behind after their retreat. The golem’s life is thrown into chaos as he attempts to reunite the cub with its family.
Tram / France, Czech Republic (Director and screenwriter: Michaela Pavlátová) — The humdrum daily routine of a tram conductress is jolted when the vibrations and rhythm of the road turn her on and take her on an erotic and surrealistic fantasy journey.
Their documentary shorts category also features two shorts with animation:
30% (Women and Politics in Sierra Leone) / United Kingdom, Sierra Leone (Director: Anna Cady) — Oil-painted animation brings to life the stories of three powerful women in postconflict Sierra Leone, revealing the violence and corruption women face as they fight for fairer representation in the governance of their country.
Irish Folk Furniture / Ireland (Director: Tony Donoghue) — In Ireland, old hand-painted furniture is often associated with hard times, with poverty, and with a time many would rather forget. In this animated documentary, 16 pieces of traditional folk furniture are repaired and returned home.
Illustrator Rob Loukotka’s ACME Corporation Kickstarter project is worth writing about for many reasons besides the fact that he’s trying to raise money. Here’s what it is: a poster of every Acme Co. item used by Wile E. Coyote in his futile pursuit of the Roadrunner. There are 126 items represented on the poster from the 43 Coyote and Roadrunner shorts that director Chuck Jones was personally involved with between 1949 and 1994.
The project wouldn’t be as noteworthy if not for how successful it’s been. Loukotka has currently sold over 2000 posters for nearly $70,000, and there are still five days left in the campaign. He is careful not to mention the Roadrunner, the Coyote, Warner Bros. or any of the cartoons in his poster. He also benefits from the fact that most of Acme products in the Chuck Jones cartoons are quite generic.
Nevertheless, Loukotka is walking a legal tightrope. He is mass producing merchandise based on a corporation’s intellectual property. If this was just a collection of random items with the name Acme on them, no one would ever buy the poster. It’s only because of the role these invented Acme items have played within a series of animated shorts that they are recognizable and of interest to the general public.
People also aren’t buying the posters because Loukotka is a popular artist. Case in point: Loukotka’s two previous campaigns on Kickstarter, which were prints based on original ideas, raised less than $5,000 each. His success with this campaign is almost entirely due to his unofficial partnership with Warner Bros.
Who knows what may happen. Corporations have been known to pursue copyright infringement cases even when characters aren’t involved. For example, Lucasfilm filed a lawsuit against British entrepreneur Andrew Ainsworth, who was selling replicas of Star Wars helmets. The company won a $20 million summary judgment against Ainsworth in U.S. courts.
I’m not a lawyer and can’t pretend to know all the legal arguments for and against such a poster. But I do find the project fascinating, especially the fact that it passed through Kickstarter’s legal vetting process. It begs the question, What other types of unofficial cartoon-related projects can be done in this manner without running afoul of copyright laws?
Carlo Vogele has a knack for imbuing inanimate objects with personality. He’s told stories with lighting fixtures, socks, and now (with an assist from Enrico Caruso), fish.
It’s fitting that a meditation on the tragic destiny of fish would be illustrated using actual fish. Earlier this year, when Vogele posted the trailer for Una Furtiva Lagrima, we discovered that there are good reasons why animators don’t typically use dead fish as models. Vogele’s effort was well spent, though, resulting in a singular and strikingly original piece of animated fimmaking.
Michael Ruocco’s The Life and Death of a Novelty Christmas Wreath is a welcome antidote to the forced cheeriness of most animated holiday films. Ruocco’s decision to keep the wreath in a fixed center-screen position is an especially effective filmmaking choice that generates an unexpected amount of emotion and humor.
Forbes has published a list of 30 Under 30 in Hollywood. If you can get past the entertainment industry’s insularity and nauseating nepotism—the children of Judd Apatow, John Landis, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Larry Ellison (two of them) are all apparently up-and-comers—you’ll appreciate that two animators managed to sneak their way onto the list.
Alex Hirsch, 27, achieved the distinction for being the creator of the Disney TV series Gravity Falls, while Rebecca Sugar, 25, is hailed as the first solo female creator of a Cartoon Network TV series. Her show, Steven Universe, is currently in production and will debut next year. Congrats to both!
CN has greenlit 12 fifteen-minute episodes, which according to Deadline, is about “an optimistic boy who wants to do everything because everything is amazing.” Page, who has been a board artist on Adventure Time, is the fourth CalArts grad to get his own Cartoon Network show in the last few years, following Thurop Van Orman (The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack), Pen Ward (Adventure Time) and J. G. Quintel (The Regular Show).
Earlier this week, Disney released the first piece of concept art from their 2013 animated feature Frozen directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. The release of this image allows the animation community to begin one of its favorite traditions: judging an entire animated feature based on a single piece of still concept art. Let me start things off by saying that the artwork leaves me a little cold.