Tonight the Observatory is presenting “A Night with Animator John Dilworth” as part of its continuing Animators are God? series. John is the prototypical New York animator–a fiercely independent filmmaker (Smart Talk with Raisin, Dirdy Birdy, Life in Transition) who also knows how to deliver the commercial goods (Cartoon Network’s Courage the Cowardly Dog) without compromising his unique point of view and style. You’ll probably learn something from him tonight, but even if you don’t, chances are you’ll at least be entertained. The Observatory is located at 543 Union Street at Nevins in Brooklyn. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are $5.
The writer, Dean Norman, spent most of his career making “studio cards,” which is the name ascribed to a particular type of tall and funny greeting card that was popular from the Fifties through the Eighties. Dean worked both in Hallmark’s Contemporary department and American Greetings’ Hi-Brows, which were the “studio card” divisions of these two major greeting card companies. (He also worked in animation briefly at studios like DePatie-Freleng and Filmation.)
Hallmark was based in Kansas City and American Greetings was in Cleveland–these were traditional midwestern companies that didn’t try to challenge middle American values as media companies on the coasts did. They were happy to put out products that served a simple and honest purpose, and get rich ten to fifteen cents at a time. As a result, the greeting card industry had little glamour (even less than animation) and few of the artists believed they were making anything more than functional commercial art. Within those boundaries though, they created some funny and memorable work.
Some of the writers and artists discussed in the book will be undoubtedly familiar names–Robert Crumb, Tom Wilson of Ziggy and MAD‘s Paul Coker, Jr.–while others are anonymous talents like Don Branham, Larry Raybourne, John Gibbons, Bob Harr, Teresa Satow, and Jimmie Fitzgerald, the latter two artists being women.
The book compares favorably to Jack Kinney’s Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters by managing to give the reader a sense of a time and place by focusing on individual artists. Norman’s stories (and he has a lot of them) made me smile and chuckle throughout, and by the end of the book, one walks away with a good sense of what it was like to work in the trenches of the greeting card biz.
Animation artists will be able to commiserate with many of Norman’s stories, especially when he discusses editors and art directors: “A good editor or good art director is perhaps the most rare creature on this planet,” he writes. “But companies large and small have these positions to fill, and the people who fill them do great damage to creativity. Often the position of editor or art director is a reward that is offered to a good writer or a good artistâ€¦If you are good, you can stop writing or drawing and become a manager who harasses other writers and artists.” Norman tells maddening stories about management’s constant search for formulas, like how when a series of cards with short characters starting selling well, Hallmark art directors demanded every artist draw only squat characters.
The book is illustrated with lots of greeting card examples and other ephemera that Norman collected over the years. It’s print-on-demand, so sadly it’s in black-and-white and the image quality is far from perfect. Also, as with most self-published projects, the book could have really used an editor to tighten up passages and help smooth out a lot of the chronological leapfrog. Having said that, I unequivocally recommend the book. It’s a valuable piece of history about a woefully neglected and undocumented area of commercial illustration and cartooning. Norman’s writing is heartfelt and his stories are delightful. If anything, this book helped convince me that Hallmark and American Greetings are sitting on some great archival material and that they should consider releasing compilations of all the funny cards they created.
The talented Ralph Eggleston designed this year’s poster for the Telluride Film Festival. As far as I know, the only other animation artists who have ever designed the Telluride poster are John Canemaker and Chuck Jones. The festival’s sole requirement for poster artists, which have included Ed Ruscha, Jim Dine, Laurie Anderson, Julian Schnabel and Seymour Chwast, is to incorporate the word “Show” somewhere in the design. Eggleston said on the Telluride website, “I’ve always loved simple, graphic, attention grabbing imagery and that was the basis for my design…I was given complete creative license by the festival in this process and was further inspired by the famous hitch-hiking scene from It Happened One Night. However, this time by way of a trip to the Telluride Film Festival.”
Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi is starting an animation class in the LA area. The six-week course will include two classes a week for a total of twelve lessons. The cost will be $1200. Students must have basic drawing skills. This post on his blog has information on how to apply.
John is a natural when it comes to teaching, and having taught artists at his studio for decades, he knows how to put across concepts with clarity. I’ve suggested to John before that he should consider imparting his knowledge to artists beyond the studio setting, and now that he’s doing it, I’m delighted to recommend him. I don’t think there’s been a private animation class in LA this exciting since Chuck Jones unit animator Ben Washam held animation classes in his home back in the 1970s.
Get Him to the Greek is a live-action film that will be released in a few days. I don’t know anything about the film, but they’ve got this entertaining animated commercial to promote the film. Anybody know the credits for this spot? They deserve some recognition. And why doesn’t the movie studio have a nice version of this spot on-line? Rarely do I see animation this attractive in TV advertising nowadays.
Director: Guilherme Marcondes
Executive Producer: Michael Feder
Producer: Greg Bedard
Lead TD: Arman Matin
TD & Layout Artist: Morgan James
Lighting: Ignacio Ayestaran, Erwin Riau
Modeling & Rigging: Daniel Williams
Modeling & Texturing: Ylli Orana
Rigging: Stanislav Llin
Color Keys: George Fuentes
Animation: Ken Music, Jamie Castaneda, Bill Burg
Compositing: Arman Matin & Allison Kocar
Particles: Jaymie Miguel
Above is a profile of Ray Lei, a Beijing-based graduate of Tsinghua University, Academy of Arts & Design. I was first introduced to his work when I was on the jury in Ottawa last year and saw three of his student films. As I recall, all of us on the jury had a similar (and curious) reaction in that we admired his work and thought it was creative, but didn’t particularly like the films. Nevertheless, Lei has plenty of ideas and creativity and I’m looking forward to following his professional career.
In the video interview, Lei says something that I hear often about animation schools in Asia, India and other developing animation regions of the world: that the schools treat animation too much as a trade and overemphasize technical skills at the expense of individual expression and thinking. That will be a big hurdle for those regions to overcome if they want to compete creatively with Western animation. Lei puts it best in the interview:
“It seems to me that too many people are too focused on the technical side of their work. Because I know After Effects, or Maya, I’m an animator. But that’s only one component in this big production. The technical skill that you’re proud of now will eventually become outdated and useless.”
More of Ray Lei’s illustration work can be seen on The Creators Project. Here’s a new eye candy-filled short by Lei:
And here’s a video of him rapping in Chinese accompanied by Simpsons director David Silverman on the tuba:
I wrote last month about the plan of Rocko’s Modern Life creator Joe Murray to raise $16,800 in 45 days to complete his animation project Frog in a Suit. Using the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, Murray reached that goal yesterday, with nine fundraising days to spare.
Murray’s success is significant because he’s the first creator from the established world of TV animation to appeal directly to his fanbase through crowd-funding. The money he raised will be used to produce two three-minute episodes of Frog in a Suit. He then plans to use these shorts to persuade mainstream advertisers to fund a full series on his as yet to be launched online cartoon channel called KaBoingTV.com. In other words, crowd-funding still isn’t a viable solution for funding an entire series if you intend to create the series using a traditional TV production pipeline; it is enough only to make a pilot.
For independent artists who use less traditional and more efficient pipelines, crowd-funding an entire series remains a distinct possibility, especially as more viewers become accustomed to directly supporting the content they want to watch. And there is plenty of room for indies in the crowd-funded marketplace. Even right now, lesser-known artists are reaching their fundraising goals, like Kymia Nawabi who raised $3,000 to make a stop-motion music video for the band Future Islands, and Chris Bishop and Evan Viera who drummed up $11,500 to make their hybrid drawn and CG-short Caldera.
New Yorkers can enjoy plenty of animation goodness this summer thanks to the Observatory, an arts and event space in Brooklyn (543 Union Street at Nevins, Brooklyn, NY 11215). They’re hosting an awesome-sounding lecture series called “Animators Are God?” Curated by GF Newland and Trilby Schreiber, the series will offer lectures, presentations and screenings by New York animators of all stripes. It kicks off this Saturday with Academy Award-winning animator Jimmy Picker who will discuss and screen his work.
Upcoming speakers include:
Signe Baumane, Animator
Kevin Brownie of Beavis and Butthead, SNL TV Funhouse
Bob Camp of Ren and Stimpy
Jonny Clockworks of the Cosmic Bicycle Theatre
John Dillworth creator of Courage the Cowardly Dog
Ted Enik Children’s book Illustrator
Nina Paley creator of Sita Sings the Blues
Bill Plympton showing his new film The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger
R. Sikoryak, Masterpiece Comic and Cartoon Parodies
Debra Solomon, co-creator of the Disney Channel’s Lizzie McGuire
Mike Zohn on the History of Automata
Additional guests will be announced. Tickets are $5 per show. For more details on the series, visit the Observatory website.
How could Shrek Forever After debut with an actual take of $70.8 million over the weekend, and still be considered a flop? An analysis of its performance can be found at Box Office Guru. According to that site, if the latest Shrek continues at its current trajectory, it may end up grossing less than How to Train Your Dragon.
UPDATE: DreamWorks’ head of worldwide marketing, Anne Globe, said the film’s North American debut “was on the low end for a Shrek film. But we’re very optimistic that it’s on its way to becoming a worldwide hit.” According to the LA Times, the more expensive ticket prices of 3-D and IMAX mask the real story: the audience for Shrek Forever After was less than half of its predecessor.
UPDATE #2: Following Shrek’s weaker-than-expected opening, DreamWorks stock took a pounding on Monday and lost 11% of its value to close at $31.05. Since the opening of How to Train Your Dragon in March, DreamWorks stock has plunged 27.5%. Read more about the company’s recent financial performance at MarketWatch.
Shrek Exposed is a new blog that reveals all of the character’s dirty secrets. It’s run by a group of concerned American citizens who are in NO WAY affiliated with the MacGruber movie which comes out the same weekend as Shrek.
The Wall Street Journal reports that this weekend, for the first time ever, a movie theater will charge $20 for a regular admission adult movie ticket. The theater: AMC in Manhattans’s Kips Bay neighborhood. The film they’re charging you twenty dollars to see: Shrek Forever After.
UPDATE: The New York Times has a follow-up story that says theaters have backtracked on the $20 ticket and reduced prices. They claim the prices listed were a mistake. The same Kips Bay AMC charged $19.50 per ticket for IMAX showings of DreamWorks’ previous film How to Train Your Dragon.
The recently unveiled 2012 London Olympic mascots, which are somehow supposed to evoke the spirit of the games, now have their very own animated short. Frankly, the cartoon isn’t as bad as it should be, but to understand why the Olympics chose to represent itself with hideously phallic blobs, listen to what this Olympic official has to say: “The one thing that came out of our research with children is they weren’t looking for a cuddly toy or something human, but for something rooted in a very good story.” If ever there was proof needed that focus-testing and researching cartoon characters is a fool’s errand, look no further.
UPDATE: Received word that the director of the animated short was Mario Cavalli and the backgrounds are by Neil Campbell Ross.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the winners of the 37th Annual Student Academy Awards competition, and three shorts shared the prize in the animation category. I’ve linked to two of them which have already been posted online. Congrats to all!
â€¢ Departure of Love
Jennifer Bors, Ringling College of Art and Design, Floridaâ€¨
â€¢ Dried Up
Isaiah Powers and Jeremy Casper, Kansas City Art Institute, Missouriâ€¨
Andres Salaff, California Institute of the Arts
I haven’t worked in an office for many years so I have no idea if this video for Tahuna Breaks’ “Giddy Up” qualifies as NSFW, but the video thumbnail offers a good clue about whether you should click or not. It’s a dirty and clever nod to the Pointer Sisters’ Sesame Street classic. There’s a smart lesson within: if you’re going to do a parody, don’t settle for middle-of-the-road references–go all out and own it.
Directed and Illustrated by Leah Morgan
Edited and Animated by Morten Leirkjaer
Produced by Fish N Clips, Auckland, New Zealand
The second edition of Midsummer Night Toons will take place on Thursday, June 10 at the M1-5 Lounge (52 Walker Street, NY, NY 10013). Started by filmmaker Matt Lee, the event is designed to give New York animators a venue to premiere new animated shorts. Six filmmakers will present five new animated shorts at this year’s show–Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, Mike Carlo, Joe Cappabianca, Gary Doodles, and Matt Lee. There will also be an original animated intro by Kat Morris and outro by Al Pardo.
Admission is FREE. Doors open 7pm, screening starts at 8:30pm. DJ Pensatore will be spinning music before and after the screening. More details at MidsummerNightToons.com.
Photographer Joy Harmon Prouty was asked by a couple to create an engagement portrait shoot themed around the childhood pastimes of Carl and Ellie in Pixar’s UP. View the photos: Part One and Part Two. The images are cloyingly sweet, but admittedly it’s better than the couple’s first idea of staging an Osmosis Jones-themed engagement shoot.
Devin Crane‘s first solo European show, “Heaven Can Wait,” will open at Galerie Arludik in Paris next week. Crane, whose animation connection is visual development at DreamWorks, focused his slickly stylized series of seventeen paintings around the female form, and if the tanned and fit (some would say emaciated) form of woman that he paints look like they belong on a Southern California beach, it might be because Crane is a lifelong LA native. High fashion plays a central role in these works, with a sprinkling of theologic undertones, if not already evident from the title of the show. More information about the show and paintings can be found at the gallery’s website. Galerie Arludik is located at 12-14, rue St. Louis en l’ÃŽle 75004 Paris. (Please note the opening date has been moved up one day to May 25 because of a planned labor strike in Paris.)
NY animator and filmmaker Fran Krause (Moonraker, The Upstate Four) attended the CalArts Producers’ Show in LA last week and took some notes for Cartoon Brew about what he saw. Here’s Fran:
Last Thursday, I was in California to show my work at the CalArts campus in Valencia and to check out their year-end Producer’s Show. I thought I’d pass on my picks, along with my thoughts on this year’s group of films. It was an interesting experience for me, since I’m an East Coaster. I’ve taught at Pratt, NYU, and Mercy College, and attended RISD as an undergrad, so it was nice to see what’s been going on out West.
Here are my picks from the show:
Crater Face by Skyler Page (2nd Year)
When The Time Is Ripe by Shion Takeuchi (4th year)
Dad? by Zesung Kang (3rd year)
SunGuy by Michelle Xin (3rd year)
The Hardest Jigsaw by Eric Anderson
Work by Michael Rianda (3rd year)
Night Parade by Sabrina Cotugno (2nd year)
It was a really inspiring group of films. The level of craft and storytelling were impressive, especially considering that, with one exception, the above films were all from second and third-year students. On the East coast, students tend to make a junior and senior film, but CalArts has their students making films all four years. The practice is getting really mature work out of the students, with sophomore and junior films holding up well next to the seniors. It’s also teaching them quite a bit about directing and managing their own projects.
“Crater Face” and “When The Time is Ripe” especially stand out to me as two films that are very well paced, with great styles and a consistent level of craft and finish. Still, I wonder if the responsibility of making a film each year is keeping the student’s schedules too busy to dabble in some more technical classes, or to learn some new techniques. Out of the twenty films in the show, only one used much 3D. The professors I talked with said that there’s been some changes recently in the curriculum that are meant to get the students more comfortable with non-2D animation, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things turn out.
There was quite a wide range of drawing styles in the program, without a noticeable “Institution Style”, as some schools seem to unfortunately put on all their films. Also of note, about half the films in the show were from women, whose presence is unfortunately all too rare in animation. I was bummed that so many of the films this year used copyrighted music. It would be great if there was more collaboration with the CalArts music students. Still, it was a really solid show and I’m glad I had the chance to check it out. I hope I’ll be seeing these films on the festival circuit this year. It’s a good thing that so many of them are available on Vimeo for everyone to see. When I wrote this article last night “The Hardest Jigsaw” wasn’t available. As I was making a couple revisions this morning, I noticed Eric posted it, so luckily we all get to see another cartoon!