This afternoon, Secret of Kells director Tomm Moore will do a Q&A following the 5pm screening of his film at the Village East Cinema in NY. Also, the distributor of the film, GKID, is launching a limited release of Secret of Kells around the US. When I saw Tomm in LA last week, he mentioned to me that he’ll be doing Q&As after the film in numerous cities. The film opens in Boston (Landmark Kendall Square) and Philadelphia (Landmark Ritz at the Bourse) on March 19, Washington DC (E Street Cinema), Chicago (Siskel Film Center) and San Francisco on April 2, Houston (Angelika) on April 9, and Denver (Starz FilmCenter) and Columbus, OH (Gateway Film Center) on April 16. More release dates will be announced on the Secret of Kells Facebook page.
If last weekend’s super successful New York opening of Kells is any indication, the film’s US release should do well. The show sold out all but one of its weekend shows. According to Movieweb, the film broke “the opening weekend box office record at New York’s IFC Center” and “propelled the IFC Center to its biggest single day and weekend grosses ever, as well as the best Friday and Saturday in the theater’s history. The Secret of Kells weekend gross of $39,826 was the best screen average of any film in the nation for the weekend of March 5-7.”
East coast animator Brian Duffy has been cataloguing the collection of Richard Balzer, who owns a one-of-a-kind cache of antique animation toys and devices. Brian writes:
Richard Balzer’s collection numbers in the thousands and includes all manner of zoetropes, thaumatropes, phenakistoscopes, magic lanterns, and any other such devices that produce an optical effect. I have been working with Dick for the past year to help catalogue his collection in an online database, and produce flash-based galleries to show off the effects of select pieces. It’s been quite an eye-opening experience, and I’ve learned a great deal about what is essentially a lost history of animation. Some of the zoetropes and phenakistoscopes show evidence of bedrock principles of animation decades before Winsor McCay and Walt Disney.
I was blown away by all of the ancient goodies displayed on Richard Balzer’s website DickBalzer.com. It’s packed with pre-film artifacts that will prove invaluable to anybody wishing to understand the historical roots of animation. Brian says that they will soon be adding more Flash galleries that show the devices in action. Updates about the collection can be found at DickBalzer.blogspot.com. Kudos to Mr. Balzer for sharing his amazing collection with the world.
A single American film like Shrek inspires multiple dubbed versions–some illegal, some not–causing Iranians to discuss and debate which of the many Farsi Shreks is superior. In some versions (since withdrawn from official circulation), various regional and ethnic accents are paired with the diverse characters of Shrek, the stereotypes associated with each accent adding an additional layer of humor for Iranians. In the more risqué bootlegs, obscene or off-topic conversations are transposed over Shrek’s fairy-tale shenanigans.
ComingSoon.net posted this publicity image from Teddy Newton’s Day & Night, the Pixar short that will screen in front of Toy Story 3. Teddy has been in the industry for quite a while–I did a profile on him back in 2002 for Animation Blast #8–and it’s exciting to see him finally get the spotlight with a short that’ll be seen by many people. Don Shank, who worked on the film, wrote on his blog earlier today that Day & Night is “unlike anything Pixar has produced before” and that working on the film was “one of the best times I’ve ever had working on anything, which is saying a lot because I’ve worked on some really great projects (uh… hello… like the academy award winning UP!).”
Animation legend Kaj Pindal has his own blog at KajPindal.blogspot.com. The blog is edited by Sheridan student Amir Avni and Chris Walsh, who teaches the animation history class with Pindal at Sheridan. The blog has stories from Pindal, rare examples of his animation, and artwork and video of his illustrious friends like Ward Kimball and Zach Schwartz. There’s only five posts so far but every one of them is a winner. I especially enjoyed King Size, a funny and brilliantly animated anti-smoking cartoon that I’d never seen before and now can’t stop watching:
Director and animator Will Finn made a thought-provoking observation on his blog a few days ago. He began the discussion by surmising that if Disney ever decided to remake Lady and the Tramp, it would likely be some Frankenstein hybrid of keyframed CGI, live-action and performance capture. I don’t doubt that for a second. Where it gets interesting though is that Will feels this is happening because cartoons, in their traditional sense, are increasingly viewed as ineffective. He writes:
[T]he tolerance for a well-crafted cartoon image, even one as sedate and safe (albeit expert) as any in the original LADY, even if it were faithfully re-created, rendered and impeccably lit in CGI, is pretty much shrinking in the hearts of the public and the minds of the power brokers. As the world of CGI expands the roles of animators and animation, it also somehow seems to ever marginalize the space cartoon art occupies in animation, especially features. This isn’t the old CG vs. 2D thing I am lamenting here, it is the encroaching realism even on CG cartoons, just as realism encroached on 2D. It is about realism vs caricature, specifically cartoony caricature and how the tide seems to be turning ever more toward the former and away from the latter.
Will’s comments are particularly relevant in light of how Jeff Smith’s Bone is in the process of being transformed from its cartoony original form into mo-cap animation, and how forthcoming Yogi Bear and Tom & Jerry features are being turned realistic a la the Chipmunks. As Will is careful to point out, this is not CG vs. 2D; it’s a deeper and more profound change in attitudes towards cartooning.
His thoughts remind me of an experience I had not so long ago with an ad agency in which the agency rep informed me that our website was considered unhip for corporate advertisers because it had the word “cartoon” in it. Cartoons are considered by many to be fuddy-duddy because of the term’s long-standing association with junky animation (i.e. Saturday morning cartoons). Films like Avatar present an alternative that further diminishes the cartoon form, even to the point of redoing successful cartoons in more realistic styles. As Will says, “I fear that in the aftermath of AVATAR and films like it the public and the industry may find cartooniness to be too quaint, too passe, too childish, all the specious negatives that threw up roadblocks in my early career days.”
When In The Country is a stylish British public safety film from 1963. Please share if you know the studio or director responsible for this. I found out about the short thanks to Lost Continent which is a commendable blog dedicated to exploring the artwork and history of British animation.
Michael Sporn has posted an amazing article about Harvey Kurtzman’s animated work for Sesame Street. There’s a lot of rare artwork in the piece alongside info on how he collaborated with Phil Kimmelman and Associates to make the cartoons.
In particular what stood out to me is this unbelievable page of animation drawings by Dante Barbetta. Loose, free and funny animation–it’s what shows like Chowder can only dream of being.
Now online: Runaway, a popular short from last year by Cordell Barker (The Cat Came Back). And kudos to the NFB for making so much of their animation library, past and present, readily accessible online.
It’s not often that I plug an animated short that isn’t finished yet, but I can’t resist this time. Slim Pickings Fat Chances is an almost-finished short by David de Rooij and Jelle Brunt from the Netherlands. The film makes no pretensions about being anything other than a funny cartoon (dialogue-less to boot), and it reminds me of a 1950s Tex Avery short in the best way possible. The timing is sharp and spot-on, the animation is funny, the characters are appealingly drawn, and the backgrounds have a delightful Paul Julian vibe. Usually, whenever artists try to capture the animation style of a bygone era, they fall short in some area or another and the effect is ruined. It’s rare when all the cogs are in place like this cartoon. It reaffirms my belief that there are superbly talented young artists working in animation today, and even when the mainstream industry doesn’t provide them opportunities, they create their own. The filmmakers have a production blog with concept art, animation tests, character designs and more. Keep an eye out for Slim Pickings Fat Chances when it hits the festival circuit later this year.
(PS: I found out about this short when David de Rooij won the caricature contest on the Brew a few weeks ago and told me about his film. A silver lining in a difficult situation.)
The Help the Hodges charity auction, which we wrote about last December, is still continuing on eBay. As explained earlier, the money raised will support animator Tim Hodge whose son’s car was struck by a train last August. His son, Matthew, remains in a coma today. There are plenty of primo pieces including a lot of production and pre-production artwork from animated projects as well as illustration art, toys and books. New items are being posted to eBay regularly, and full item descriptions can be found on HelptheHodges.com.
My pal, Ray Favata, is the subject of a lengthy profile in this week’s Post-Star paper. He started his career at Tempo Productions, one of the early ‘cartoon modern’ studios that was later shuttered because of the blacklist. He went on to design commercials at Academy Pictures, John Sutherland Productions, and Deitch-era Terrytoons (where he boarded an unproduced sequel to Flebus), before starting a commercial studio with Bill Tytla, and then launching Ray Favata Productions. Since then, he’s worked on everything imaginable from projects with Frank Zappa to the TV series Doug. More of his work can be seen on the Cartoon Modern blog.
Here’s an episode of “Billy Jo Jive” that Favata made for Sesame Street:
As far as CG spots for salsa go, this one directed by Nicholas Weigel at Laika offers some impressive art direction. An in-depth interview with Weigel and production credits can be found at Motionographer. For a more immersive version of the ad, watch it on Vimeo where it takes over the screen.
Lou Scheimer tells all . . . like about the time he produced something crappy, or that other time he produced something crappy, or those few decades where he had an impressive streak of producing lots and lots of crap in a row. There’s also an uplifting personal story about the time he vowed to produce something decent, but then realized it was more important to stay true to himself and produce crap.
That’s a clip from Joe Murray’s Frog in a Suit, a new short film that doubles as a pilot. Here’s the set-up:
Peete Moss has just moved to Croakville ( a town full of toads) with his family. Croakville is a town on the fast track, with Industrialist Harvey Croak running everyone crazy. Peete Moss tries to fit in, sports a suit, and tries to “run with the bulls”. In this clip, he has a run in with a local coffee shop, and offends the love of his life, Lilly Patt, who is the local school teacher.
Ronald Searle with Walt Disney. Click for bigger version
Happy birthday to Ronald Searle, one of the true legends of 20th (and now 21st) century cartooning and illustration. His artwork is the first thing that greets visitors to my pad, which should give some clue as to how highly I revere his work. In addition to his print work, he’s worked on numerous animation projects throughout his career including Energetically Yours and Dick Deadeye, and has indirectly been responsible for the look of countless other works of animation, most notably Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. My pal Matt Jones has been posting lots of birthday celebration news on the Ronald Searle blog.
Here’s a new interview with Searle on the occasion of his birthday:
I like the simple but direct graphic concept that Stéphanie Cabdevila employs in this video for Mary’s Dream. She produced it at Paris-based Metronomic. If it’s not already clear from this video and the front page of her website, Cabdevila’s work has a playfully twisted visual sensibility. It’s also on display in this video for Claire Diterzi’s “La Vieille Chanteuse”.
GKIDS was aided by a “superfan,” Jamie Bolio, an animator who had fallen in love with the film at Edinburgh. The company essentially enabled her to be a citizen publicist, allowing her to post on “The Secret of Kells” Facebook page and giving her 200 DVDs to distribute to the Los Angeles cartooning industry.
Also, if you’ve seen the film and want to understand all of its historical references and settings, I can recommend no finer article than this in-depth analysis by Robert Tan posted on Roger Ebert’s blog.
John Canemaker (far left) with John Kricfalusi, Frank Gladstone and Glen Keane
Finally! Our friend, the esteemed animation historian/filmmaker/teacher John Canemaker has started a regular monthly blog column for Print magazine. He says that the blog will take “a wide-ranging look at many and varied artistic influences on animation, including comic art and CGI, games, book illustration, fine art, classic films, literature, and performance art,” and will explore everything “from Giotto to Johnny Gruelle, Elaine Stritch to Snow White, with the same personal perspective I bring to my teaching, lectures, and books.”
In his first post, Canemaker expresses his appreciation for the comic Bone and chats with Jeff Smith about his forthcoming animated adaptation of Bone. My only suggestion is that Print offers a direct link to his blog that always links to the latest article and Canemaker’s archives, otherwise it’ll be difficult to link to his blog or keep up with his posts.
Call me immature, but the combination of drawings and voices makes me laugh. It’s animated by Rob Bohn, and voiced by Bohn and Nate Milton. Bohn and Milton, both recent graduates of SVA, are part of the Brooklyn-based collective Amigo Unit which has numerous other short animation experiments on Vimeo.
This homage to Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is one of the nicest cartoon tattoos I’ve ever seen. A larger version of the pic above can be found HERE. The artist Holly Azzara has a post on her blog about the process of creating the tattoo. I’d like to see Disney’s legal team try to get rid of this example of “copyright infringement.”
Sanjay Patel’s Ramayana: Divine Loophole is a retelling of the classic Hindu myth with the addition of cheerfully stylized cartoon graphics that reflect the colorful spirit of Indian culture. The graphics are so overwhelming that reading it almost seems secondary; I’ve looked at the book plenty in the past few weeks but haven’t read past the intro yet.
Sanjay, who works at Pixar by day, has previously dabbled with Hindu culture in The Little Book of Hindu Deities. There’s another animation connection too: he was inspired to illustrate the story after watching Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, which is also based on the tale. The book, published by my pals at Chronicle Books, is available for just under $20 at Amazon.com.
The Getty Conservation Institute and Disney’s Animation Research Library (ARL) division are partnering to study why the plastic in certain cels deteriorates more quickly than others and to find ways of slowing down the deterioration process. The study is expected to take three years to complete. Like the Tim Burton exhibit currently at MoMA, this is another encouraging example of animation artwork receiving serious consideration from an art institute. According to the LA Times which broke the story:
The Getty said the initial phase of research will involve an assessment of the best methods for the identification of the actual plastics used in the cels, and for monitoring the condition of cels made with cellulose nitrate and acetate. Scientists at the Getty will also examine the physical and thermal properties of the plastics. The new collaboration is part of the Getty’s “Preservation of Plastics” project that was initiated to study signs of deterioration in plastic objects in museum collections.
Another take-away from the article is that Disney’s ARL houses 65 million pieces of Disney art. Granted, the drawings and cels add up quickly in animation, but wow, that’s still a whole lot of artwork!
Even after reading the description of their process, I’m a bit confused by how the interactivity worked, but I highly recommend checking out the finished piece, which is visually striking and quite inventive. What follows is an explanation of the project by the artists:
In the summer and fall of 2009 a multilayered canvas and animation was
created which could be influenced and followed by website visitors online 24 hours a day. Six weeks long and through actions like Introduce Object, Shirt ‘Em and Cameo Appearance website visitors could interact with leading character Selfcontrolfreak.
Each sent in gesture added a new animated interaction as they were painted layer-by-layer into the growing animating canvas by Baschz. Every new layer was photographed seperately and together with the other frames created the animating canvas, leaving the end canvas consisting of well over 100 different painted layers. The whole coming-of-art process could be followed live through a webcam and Twitter feed, on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Fotolog, etc.