Few people I know take the Oscars seriously as a barometer for what is state-of-the-art or innovative in animation, and looking at the long list of winners from years’ past, the awards have rarely reflected the development of animation as an art. Still, for one day every year, we pretend like the opinions of the Academy voters actually mean something to our community. That’s especially difficult during the years when the Academy’s choices have shown an even greater disconnect from animation than typical.
1. The Two Mouseketeers (1951) by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera
Between 1943 and 1952, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera won the Oscar for best animated short a remarkable seven times. Now you’re probably thinking, if the Academy deemed them worthy of recognition so many times, these guys must have been visionaries who were creating work that was truly different and interesting. And you’d be wrong. These guys made Tom and Jerry shorts, the most formulaic and workmanlike of any cartoon series produced during the Hollywood era of theatrical shorts.
Hanna and Barbera explored less and pushed fewer boundaries than any other directors during this period, and they were rewarded for playing it safe. In the year they won for Two Mousketeers–their innovation here was adding a second mouse–John Hubley created Rooty Toot Toot, which ranks among the most groundbreaking and beautiful pieces of animation ever produced within the Hollywood studio system. The Academy stopped tossing off Bill and Joe long enough to nominate Hubley’s masterwork, and then promptly awarded Hanna and Barbera their sixth Oscar. Continue reading →
A surprising number of cool visual ideas in this one-shot stop-motion short by Guy Verge Wallace. The floor that turns into a door around the :20 second mark and the neon firearms are my favorite parts.
And while we’re on the subject, a shout-out to the heroic and courageous people of Libya, who are not only fighting the good fight to topple a dictatorship, but are also using the time-honored tradition of caricature to humiliate their crackpot leader. Below are some of the best examples I’ve seen so far from Libya. If you have your own Qaddafi caricatures, share them in the comments.
UPDATE: Some fantastic contributions from Brew readers. Share yours in the comments.
Walt Peregoy is best known as the color stylist of 101 Dalmatians and headed the background department at Hanna-Barbera in the late-1960s. The Animation Guild‘s business rep and intrepid interviewer Steve Hulett spoke recently with the 85-year-old Peregoy and their conversation can be heard below. If you’ve ever heard Walt speak before, then you know what to expect, but if you haven’t, be forewarned that there’s a lot of swearing and everyone he talks about is either a son of a bitch, a buttboy, a white supremacist or a motherf**r. Unlike Charlie Sheen though, Walt’s rants are actually pretty entertaining.
There aren’t all that many animated films in the immaculately curated Criterion Collection. In fact, of the 556 DVDs that have been released under the Criterion banner, approximately 556 of them have been not been animated.
That’s Cinematical writer David Ehrlich asking why the discerning cinema buffs at Criterion have never released an animated film. He suggests that they begin looking in the direction of animation and offers a list of ten animated films they should consider releasing. What’s your wishlist of animated films that Criterion should release? Perhaps someone at the company will take notice of the possibilities.
FOR THE RECORD: A few commenters have pointed out that Criterion has released animation in the past–they put out Akira on laserdisc in 1995, and have released a few DVD anthologies of work by experimental animator Stan Brakhage.
The “Walt Disney hated Jews and blacks” accusation is one of the most vile mistruths tossed around about the old man, yet a quick browse on-line suggests that more young people believe it today than ever before. How did this happen? Why is the single fact that kids know about this 20th century entertainment giant a shopworn charge, long ago disproven, that he was anti-Semitic and/or racist?
I began to understand the situation more clearly after spending some time exploring Yahoo! Answers, which contains dozens of questions about Walt’s beliefs. The questions don’t stem from Marc Eliot’s notorious hack job Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince–remember, nobody reads anymore–but rather from pop culture references, particularly animated shows like Family Guy and Robot Chicken.
Writers of these shows, who can rarely be relied upon to come up with clever or original humor, recycle a playbook of dated pop culture references, among them that Walt hated Jews and that he’s frozen. Family Guy writers are so enamored of the anti-Semitic charges, that they’ve made the accusation multiple times, including this instance:
Combine the endemic laziness of animation writers with an every-child-left-behind educational system that has created a legion of TV viewers who can’t recognize that they’re being duped by old hearsay instead of being revealed new truths, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
I dropped by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco last year and it was one of the most well curated and delightful museums I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The museum achieves its aims of documenting Disney’s vast achievements and then some. The reality though is that most teenagers will never visit the museum. To address the rampant distortions about Walt, the Disney family and company must expand their on-line presence and make an effort to combat the inaccuracies with relevant information about Walt Disney’s life, history and legacy.
I’m sure the Walt Disney Company has plenty of employees already who manage their brand on-line and actively communicate with fans on the Internet. But seeing as how their company’s success is so indelibly tied to a single name, it would behoove them to also have a full-time employee or two dedicated to managing their founder’s reputation lest these lies are repeated often enough to be accepted as truth.
The problem of TV writers spreading disinformation about Walt is so widespread that even former Disney stars are perpetuating the stories. For example, take this appearance by Zac Efron on Saturday Night Live. Walt Disney appears in the skit, and along with him, the two stock Walt gags: he’s anti-Semitic and he’s frozen.
I’ve collected some of the most representative questions and answers from Yahoo! Answers that show the scope of the perception problem for Disney.
After analyzing all of the related Walt Disney questions on Yahoo, the most common sources of Walt’s contemporary character assassination can be traced to jokes on Family Guy and Robot Chicken, resulting in questions like this one:
Or this one:
Walt has defenders but the reasons are often as misinformed as the questions.
Here’s a defense from a “Disney historian, sort of!”
This Jewish girl is disappointed to learn that Walt, in fact, hated her.
Of course, he wasn’t just an anti-Semite, he was also “pro-white and hated people who weren’t.”
Thankfully, watching Disney cartoons is ok since “It’s not like you’re funding some Jew-killing operation.”
Oh, Family Guy writers, what clever comedy material will you come up with next? Perhaps a timely Hitler joke.
Saturday Night Live writers aren’t much better.
According to this person, supporting Walt Disney’s work is equivalent to supporting a media empire run by Osama bin Laden.
Walt won’t even leave Jews alone when they’re in the bathroom. This Yahoo commenter has a bright future ahead of him as a TV animation writer.
Frankly, Google’s Autofill isn’t much help in the matter either.
And yes, finally, some sanity.
UPDATE: A shameful example of misinformation can be found in this recent piece about Roald Dahl. In it, the misinformed author Alex Carnevale repeats the old canard about Walt’s feelings towards Jews:
[Dahl's] interest in writing, combined with his ludicrous tales of his wartime experience, quickly led him to Hollywood, where he immediately had much in common (appetite for clandestine inappropriate sex, hatred of Jews) with the Disney brothers. Walt Disney gave him the use of a car and put him up at the Beverly Hills Hotel!
Hans Perk recently posted scans from a 1983 edition of the Disney Newsreel, an in-house newsletter about happenings around the studio. The issue had an article about an animation test created by John Lasseter and Glen Keane using Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are as subject matter. The project will be well known to anyone familiar with the careers of Lasseter and Keane, but I found the article’s contemporaneous account of the production to be interesting, especially Lasseter’s quote that, “In five years these tests will seem so primitive, they’ll look like Steamboat Willie does today.” Since it seems that people rarely bother to read scans of text, I went ahead and reformatted the piece for on-line. Here is the article:
Henry Selick’s new animation studio, which we reported on a couple months ago, has set up shop in San Francisco’s hip Mission District. According to MissionLocal.org, the Disney-backed studio, now called ShadeMaker Productions, is located in a former chocolate factory at 16th and Folsom, and will ultimately house 150 employees.
It still sends a tingle down my spine when I discover a piece of amazing animation that I didn’t know existed. That’s the feeling I experienced this afternoon when I randomly stumbled onto About Face, an animated short made by Chris James in 1978. With tension and surprise in every transformation, the film is a reminder that pen and colored pencil can still create effects impossible to achieve with any other tool.
Here is a description of the film found on-line:
About Face is set to the music of Claude Jouvin and features caricatures of Henry the VIII, Mick Jagger, Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, The Marx Brothers, David Bowie and a worm.
The film was runner-up in the Grierson Award for Best Short Film of 1978 and was screened on the inaugural day of Channel Four television in November 1982. Other showings include The Arts Council Film Tour and the film festivals of Annecy, Zagreb, Los Angeles, Tampere, Varna, Lucca, Wellington and more.
Written and drawn by Chris James
Music Claude Jouvin
Camera Julian Holdaway
Legendary visual effects artist Stan Winston has been dead for a few years now, but an on-line school bearing his name is getting ready to start up. Stan Winston School of Character Arts will be launched in association with the Los Angeles-based institution Gnomon. The three-minute trailer on the school’s website offers a preview of the numerous disciplines that will be taught by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts. My only question: If you’re starting a serious school, why hire a cheesy and obnoxious announcer who cheapens the entire message?
A new episode of Adventure Time airs tonight on Cartoon Network, and the show will feature a 5-1/2 minute long computer animated segment. The segment was modeled, rigged and animated by one person–Ke Jiang–who graduated in 2009 from the CalArts Experimental Animation program.
Here is something that doesn’t happen often: Swedish filmmaker Johannes Nyholm released a trailer earlier this week for his short Las Palmas, and the trailer became a viral hit (1.643 million views as of this writing). This is it:
True, there’s no animation in the clip above, but Nyholm has also made animated shorts. His finest animated piece to date is The Tale of Little Puppetboy, the first part of which is below:
Puppetboy had me rolling on the floor when I first encountered it a few years back at the Fredrikstad Animation Festival–a wonderful festival by the way–and as one of the jury members, I made sure it got an honorary mention. On the surface, Puppetboy appears crude, but the concept and comedic timing are razor-sharp, which I think sheds some light on Nyholm’s unique ability to make even a trailer go viral.
Taking a page from the playbook of hip hop musicians who peddle their CDs in tourist areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn animator Mark Stansberry is using a novel way of promoting his cartoon character Puddin–selling DVDs on the subway. The NY Daily News has more about his story. According to Stansberry, he’s sold over 40,000 DVDs over the past two years at $1 a piece. The DVDs contain multiple Puddin cartoons like this one:
Stansberry’s grassroots promotion of his animation is laudable, even if the actual cartoons don’t excite me personally. He is proving that there is more than one way to get your animation into the hands of an audience. Here’s another interview with him in which he talks about how his oldest son is helping out with the digital animation.
The best part of this story is that General Motors made his animation career possible. “I worked fifteen years at General Motors in Maryland, and when they closed down the plant in Baltimore, I got a buy-out,” Stansberry says. “But for all those fifteen years I worked there, I also had my own studio where I was working on my animation and making these shorts…General Motors pretty much put me in a place where I could concentrate on my animation.”
Simon’s cat move over; there’s a new animated cat in town. Veteran animator Frans Vischer, currently working at Disney, animated this charming trailer for a book he wrote and illustrated called Fuddles. It’ll be released in May by Simon & Schuster. Until then, you can watch this trailer over and over, and sulk about how much you miss that good old traditional animation.