I was thinking today, If Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel has enough animation in it to be eligible for Best Animated Oscar, and A Christmas Carol is considered animation, then Avatar most definitely qualifies as an animated film too. The only reason Avatar isn’t on the list of animation Oscar contenders is because the studio didn’t want it to languish in the “animation ghetto.” That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it’s an animated film and should be acknowledged as such.
This spurred me to do some research on the subject, and I discovered I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this. Brad Brevet did an excellent in-depth report on the subject at Rope of Silicon where he discusses the blurry line between visual effects and animation and how it leads to a double standard at awards time:
[I]t has pretty much been agreed upon around the Internet Avatar will be taking home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, which creates an interesting conundrum. Why is the CG in Avatar considered visual effects while the CG employed for a Pixar or DreamWorks film simply considered animation? If Avatar is up for Oscar’s Best Visual Effects award shouldn’t Up and Monsters vs. Aliens be as well? The fact they aren’t, but A Christmas Carol is, interests me. Perhaps the real question is When is CGI no longer considered visual effects and when is it considered animation?
There are serious problems at the Academy if they consider A Christmas Carol to be both animation and vfx, Avatar only vfx, and Up only animation. As animation matures and evolves as an art form, it is vital for those of us within the industry to recognize it in all its many forms, and not allow organizations like the Academy to make arbitrary value judgments about different forms of animation.
Another classic job offer, this time from iFreelance.com. A Nigerian musician, Cruci Derek, is looking for somebody to make him a “high-quality” CG music video with an “Avatar standard”. The budget is $250. They’ll pay you through Western Union, but be forewarned, “Deposit upon proven competence of undertaking this job.”
Here is the trailer to Candyman, a documentary by Costa Botes about David Klein, the inventor of the gourmet jelly bean Jelly Belly, and how he has been banished from the candy empire that he created. The film debuts at the Slamdance Film Festival later this month.
So why is this appearing on Cartoon Brew? Klein is the father of Disney animator Bert Klein, who is a producer on the documentary. Bert is also responsible for the current Annie Award nominee Pups of Liberty, which he co-directed with his wife Jennifer Cardon-Klein. Visit CandymanFilm.com for more details on the documentary.
I got a kick out of this trailer for Storm, a nine-minute animated short based on a ‘beat poem’ by Australian comedian and writer Tim Minchin. The film is directed by DC Turner, and animated by Turner and Fraser Davidson. The filmmakers have a blog where they’re sharing artwork from the short while Minchin’s original poem can be heard here.
The trailer for an upcoming German CG feature, Die Konferenz der Tiere, co-directed by Reinhard Klooss and Holger Tappe at Constantin Film:
It’s based on a 1949 children’s book by Erich Kästner that took an Animal Farm-esque approach to Germany’s East-West conflict. The book was previously adapted into an animated feature in 1969. A clip from that earlier film can be viewed on YouTube. Which version would you rather watch?
It’s easy for the eyes to get lost in this mesmerizing piece of animation by Malcolm Sutherland (The Astronomer’s Dream). Narrative images pop out of some of the abstract forms which makes it that much more exciting to watch. Soundtrack is by Sutherland too.
3. Design from the heart.
Write / design around things you’re passionate about. Put yourself into your work and show the world who you are. What do you love? What do you hate? Why? All notable film makers have a stamp, something that appears in their work and speaks to who they are. These themes will always come through to your audience, giving your work a sense of your self.
4. Take big risks.
Try to innovate the hell out of anything you make. From how your game plays to how it looks, be unique and you’ll stand out. Push your personal limits, try new genres, mechanics and aesthetics. Experimentation and risk are the keys to growing as an artist. Don’t be scared of failure; you don’t have much to lose and you’ll only learn from your mistakes.
Tom Elrod makes the case in this well thought out blog post for a special brand of conservatism that appears in Pixar’s output. I don’t quite agree with it, but it’s a viewpoint worth sharing:
There is something conservative about much of Pixar’s output, but when I say conservative, I mean a small “c” conservative that sees the world along the same lines as Edmund Burke: “A disposition to preserve.” I’m going to call this “social conservatism,” by which I don’t mean the religious or moral conservatism of modern political discourse, but a conservatism that is interested in preserving traditional social features – in particular, the idea of “family” – but which sees such preservation as ultimately futile. The family will dissolve, eventually, and so we must do what we can to keep it going as long as possible. It is a worldview based not on progression but on loss.
It could be argued that a lot of that conservatism is simply a byproduct of the excessively nostalgic and sentimental viewpoint in Pixar’s films (think the Toy Story series, Cars and Up).
The only thing worse than knowing they’re making a live-action/CG hybrid of Tom & Jerry is reading an interview with the film’s producer and finding out that he’s completely ignorant about the characters and animation in general. That’s the disappointing discovery I made when I stumbled across this interview with Dan Lin. He displays his prolific lack of knowledge about the cat and mouse duo in his very first answer about the film:
My kids love the show. It’s two things-my kids love the show, I love the show. It’s really the originator of cartoon violence.
It’s hard to botch two fundamental concepts in such a brief answer, but Lin somehow manages that feat. First of all, they’re making a movie based on characters that were established and became famous in theatrical shorts. To call it a “show” displays a profound lack of context and understanding of the history of these characters. It’s perfectly understandable though how somebody who doesn’t even recognize this basic fact about the characters could then make the outlandishly stupid claim that Tom and Jerry is “the originator of cartoon violence.” Somebody get this guy a copy of Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic…QUICK! It gets better. He then says:
And the way I view it is it’s almost like sibling rivalry. It’s the way my brothers and I fought growing up, Tom and Jerry fight.
I may be an only child, but even I know that sibling rivalry doesn’t typically involve high-grade explosives, disembowelment, and attempts to eat the other sibling. Tom & Jerry is a classic predator-prey setup with the survival of the characters at stake. Diluting their relationship into a wimpy sibling rivalry is a massive misunderstanding of the motivations of these characters and strays perilously close to Tom and Jerry: The Movie territory, which we know turned out all kinds of awful:
Then again, having Tom and Jerry be friends is possibly the only route Lin can go since he appears to be willing to bend over backwards and change the personality of the characters willy-nilly to appease the marketplace and the MPAA. His last comment in the interview is the most ominous of all:
So we really want to retain the spirit of the original Tom and Jerry. We’ll see how that changes as we go through the filmmaking process and also the MPAA process.
Note that it’s not “I’m going to fight to retain the spirit of these characters;” it’s “We’ll see how that changes.” Spoken like a true producer without creative principles or vision.
The son of animation artist Tim Hodge (Mulan, Brother Bear, VeggieTales) was in an auto accident last August. The situation is difficult for the Hodge family, whose son remains in a coma today. Tim explained on his blog:
As you may not realize, our short term insurance expired in September. The rest of the family could renew, but Matt became a pre-existing condition. So Matt’s healthcare since that time has all been out of pocket. Vanderbilt Hospital was gracious to us and forgave our six figure debt to them. But Matt’s ongoing care and future rehabilitation is still in the balance.
The help the family, the comics and animation community is rallying together to stage a massive eBay art auction beginning January 21st. The website HelptheHodges.com has images and details about the donated artwork. It is an impressive collection that includes a diverse group of artists including Drew Struzan, Charles Schulz, Nick Park, Frank Thomas, Craig McCracken, and Nico Marlet (above). The list of artwork is growing by the day, and it all goes to a worthy cause so participation is encouraged. Should you wish to simply help the family without participating in the auction, the Hodges’ website also has details on how to make a fully tax-deductible donation to the family.
JibJab has released their annual “year in review” short with a tongue-in-cheek summary of the highs and (mostly) lows of the past twelve months. They’ve supplemented it with an exhaustive set of blog posts documenting the production process scene-by-scene. This year’s edition is notable for its lo-fi aesthetic with most of the visuals created in-camera. It was surprising to learn on their blog how many of the elements that I initially assumed used digital compositing were actually made with cut-outs, replacement stop-mo animation, and puppetry.
Here are my picks for the best animation books of 2009.
The Colors of Mary Blair –A catalog for an exhibition that happened earlier this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. I don’t have a copy myself and don’t even know how you can obtain one, but this book does it right with page after packed page of animation concepts, personal watercolors, advertising art, and illustration work. It works well as a companion to John Canemaker’s 2003 bio The Art and Flair of Mary Blair.
Iwao Takamoto: My Life with a Thousand Characters by Iwao Takamoto with Michael Mallory – An entertaining, fast-paced and personal look into the life and career of now-deceased artist Iwao Takamoto that shows he deserves to be remembered for more than just designing Scooby-Doo.
Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes, Volume 1 and Volume 2, by Walt Stanchfield, edited by Don Hahn – A lifetime’s worth of knowledge and wisdom is contained within these two paperbacks. The material is taken from Stanchfield’s handouts used in his classes for Disney animators. These books belong on any animator’s bookshelf, whether beginner or expert.
Starting Point: 1979-1996 by Hayao Miyazaki, translated by Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt – I have yet to read a single page of this book, but if you ask Mark Mayerson and Richard O’Connor, it’s nothing short of amazing. It sounds like an eclectic and thought-provoking collection of opinions from one of today’s master animation directors, and it’s the animation book that I’m currently most looking forward to reading.
The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox – This elegantly compact volume, designed by Angus Hyland of Pentagram, injects fresh blood into the tired ‘art of’ book format. I’ve personally resisted writing any more feature film ‘art of’ books, but something as original and distinctive as this one might force me to reconsider.
Feel free to share your favorite animated-related titles published in the past year and tell us why.
If you ever happen to find yourself in Hinsdale, Illinois, as I have myself, be sure to check out Zingelman’s (13 W. 1st St.). The deli is filled with charmingly incompetent murals of cartoon characters, including odd pairings like Superman and SpongeBob. Here are a few more images from the establishment:
According to this article in Slate by Jeremy Stahl, up to half of Sweden’s population will be watching Donald Duck (or Kalle Anka) cartoons today, a Christmas eve tradition that dates back fifty years.
Here’s a collage of holiday cards by Disney artists that I guarantee you haven’t seen before. They are either from 1939 or 1940. Click on the image below for the full-sized version. The artists are, clockwise from upper left, Berk Anthony, Bill Hurtz, Walt Kelly, Marc Davis, Zach Schwartz (I think), Marc Davis again, Ernie Nordli, Ted Sears, and Frank Thomas.
Nina Paley’s animation masterpiece (and I don’t use that term loosely) is having a full one-week theatrical run in New York City from December 25-31. There are multiple screenings a day at the IFC Film Center (323 Sixth Avenue) and Paley writes on her blog that she’ll be doing Q&As at the 8:25 pm shows “most (possibly all) nights.” Showtimes and tickets are available at the IFC website.
“I Say Fever” is a video for Ramona Falls directed by Stefan Nadelman (of Food Fight fame). Nadelman uses a photo collage puppeted-animation technique that transforms ordinary antique engravings into a darkly macabre vision that fits the music perfectly.
Following his passing, I’m learning new things about Roy E. Disney. For example, musician Alexander Rannie pointed out to me that Disney wrote lyrics for the song “Sometimes” in his sailing documentary Pacific High (1979). It was set to music by Robert F. Brunner and sung by Christalee McPherson. You can listen to the song here. These are Roy’s lyrics:
Sometimes, there’s a moment
Sometimes, you’ll never know
Sometimes, it just happens and flows
Sometimes, there’s a moment
Fleeting – too soon gone
A moment overwhelms you like dawn
Once in a million times
Watching the thistles blow
You seek perfection there
Somehow the pieces fit
You’re just a thistle, too
Blown on a vagrant wind
But when it comes you’ll know
The moment’s there for you
Sometimes, there’s a moment
When it happens, you will know
Heaven in that moment
And heaven will touch you
So take it, just take it
Until it can touch you again
Cartoonist Bill Mudron whipped up this piece of artwork to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series premiere of The Simpsons, which debuted December 17, 1989. The piece, “Creation of Homer,” lovingly renders key writers, directors and producers from the early years of the show. Bill’s Flickr page, linked above, has the entire image along with identifications.