Whenever I’m feeling down about the state of the industry, I only have to remember that there are artists the caliber of Scott Wills working in animation to feel better again. Scott has started a long-overdue blog, Candy Cane Land, at AnimationBGS.blogspot.com to showcase his work, and in addition to some great behind-the-scenes photos, he’s posting artwork from all the projects he’s worked on including Ren & Stimpy, Samurai Jack, Sym-Bionic Titan, and numerous DreamWorks features.
It’s a movie about the life of Spanish cartoonist Manuel Vázquez Gallego (1930-1995), creator of characters like Anacleto, GÃº-GÃº and Las Hermanas Gilda (Gilda Sisters). He also used to caricature himself in his comics. The animated sequences were made by British company Espresso Animation and I think they did a fantastic job capturing the essence of the characters, which have never been animated before even though most of them were created more than fifty years ago.
The animation sequences were directed by Philip Vallentin of London-based Espresso Animation. The film, directed and written by Oscar Aibar, was released in Spain last week. This English review of the film makes me really want to see it–it describes Vázquez as a “roguish comic strip artist for whom life is a series of lies, cons and romantic dalliances.” He apparently even faked his own death in an attempt to earn more money.
Mark Simon, an animation artist with 2,700 productions to his credit, frequently hosts Hit Makers Summits where he charges thousands of dollars to teach participants how to sell their TV concepts. In this clip from his “Thriving Artist” lecture, he shares his inspiring story of beating the odds and getting past the “gatekeepers” at DreamWorks. And even though the gatekeepers he’s talking about are the secretaries who answer the phone at the studio, you’ll find yourself cheering for Mark by the end when he triumphs over those evil phone overlords. The Dreamworks bit begins at 2:45 in the clip.
Now you might be wondering, How could somebody with over twenty years of industry experience not have fostered any professional relationships so that he could simply ask a friend who he should speak with at DreamWorks? You might also be wondering why someone who labels himself a pitch expert and charges thousands of dollars teaching people how to sell their TV concepts not only doesn’t have his own shows on the air but apparently has trouble getting past secretaries at major studios? Personally, I’d be content just knowing where he got his awe-inspiring collared Superman shirt.
Well, actually, they’re not paintings according to Kinkade. He prefers to call them “narrative panoramas” because they’re “a recreation of the entire panorama of the story. It is the narrative all told in one visual form.”
The narrative panoramas–watch the Pinocchio video above to get an idea–form his series called Disney Daydreams. “These are my daydreams of the places and the worlds envisioned by Walt Disney, but reinterpreted as a Thomas Kinkade painting.” Wait a second…he just said they weren’t paintings! What’s he trying to pull here? Whatever he wants to call them, it basically means that he’s reinterpreting Disney’s creativity into “completely worthless collectibles” with no investment value. (Update: Check out these brazen blog posts from Kinkade resellers–here and here–touting the investment value of the Disney pieces.)
Then again, maybe I’m the one who’s missing something. In this video released a few days ago promoting his new Beauty and the Beast piece, Kinkade makes a woman moan in ecstasy simply by describing the characters in the painting. Clearly, the man is doing something right.
Just for kicks, here’s another video about his Snow White painting. Kinkade discusses how he utilized “very specialized techniques” to create the painting, such as making a full-color sketch to lay out the composition. But before you complain, you should know that Kinkade makes his work for a special audience that doesn’t include you: “I always say that my paintings are for real people, people who enjoy life and enjoy beauty. Not necessarily for those who have studied art or know the traditions of painting.”
Here’s the ultimate animation collector’s item: the San Gabriel, California home of animation legend Ward Kimball is currently for sale for $2.2 million. Designed by Robert H. Ainsworth and built for Ward and Betty Kimball in 1939, the home has never been on the market before. It’s been put up for sale by the family after Betty passed away last July at the age of 97.
Sadly, the expectation is that the home itself will be razed, and according to the listing, “Property shall be sold in its present as is condition and mainly for land value only.” There are still some remnants of the legendary backyard railroad, but the trains have been relocated to the Orange Empire Railway Museum, and John Lasseter bought the train station for his own property in northern California. Here’s what the backyard looked like in 2009:
Anybody who is knowledgeable about animation and trains already knows the magical universe that Ward and Betty built on this landmark property. Countless famous people have passed through over the years: Walt Disney and Michael Jackson engineered the train, Wernher von Braun swam in their pool, Rowland Emett slept in the train station, Ray Bradbury shot a TV series in their backyard, Robert Crumb jammed in their living room with his band. Every animation notable from Bruno Bozzetto to Osamu Tezuka to Richard Williams has visited at some point.
I’ve spent innumerable hours at the Kimball home over the past three years, and can attest to what a special site it is. All good things must come to an end however, and after seventy years, it’s sad knowing that the Kimball family will no longer own the place. Their decision is perfectly understandable; the place was Ward and Betty’s creation, and their presence and zest for life is what made 8910 Ardendale so special in the first place. Without them, it’s time to start a new chapter. Here’s to hoping that whoever lives there in the future will appreciate the historical significance of the property.
If you’re interested, the property is repped by Priscilla Yim at Re/Max Premier Properties.
The eclectic group of nominees in the animation category is impressive, and made more notable by the fact that the nominees were chosen from the pool of films posted to the video hosting site. They strike me as being far more representative of the current state of short-form animation than this year’s Oscar nominees.
I won’t go so far as to say that the Academy chose poor films, but nominating four (for the most part) generic CG films and yet another Wallace & Gromit short hardly represents the breadth and diversity of today’s animation scene. It also does little to boost the public’s perception of what animation is capable of as a medium. Awards can’t be expected to always honor the best, simply because “best” is such a subjective concept, but they should at the very least make an effort to accurately represent the field they’re celebrating. The Vimeo Awards have done a good job of that in their inaugural edition.
Animation studio Titmouse (Metalocalypse, Megas XLR) has opened a New York studio in the Tribeca district of Manhattan. The image above is an announcement for their opening party which took place last Friday. The New York studio will be producing the second season of the Adult Swim series Superjail!, and is also developing future projects.
The New York branch, which follows their successful home base in Los Angeles, represents a homecoming of sorts for co-owner Chris Prynoski, who runs the studio with his wife Shannon. Prynoski established his career working at MTV Animation in New York on shows like Beavis and Butt-Head, The Head, and Daria as well as creating the series MTV Downtown.
The opening of a top-tier studio in New York is welcome news because the number of studios here that produce series animation on a par with LA outfits can be counted on one hand. I can think of just Augenblick Animation, World Leaders and Curious Pictures. Even better, Titmouse is a studio run by people who actually like cartoons, and they have solid credentials in TV, commercials, music videos, and games. If their raucous studio launch party was any indication, Titmouse’s arrival promises to breathe new life and energy into New York’s animation industry.
Great weekend read: Michael Heilemann explores how George Lucas created Chewbacca, or rather how he…um…borrowed…it from somebody else. The piece’s valuable insights into the creative process apply to all the arts, though they are particularly applicable to filmmaking, in which the final product is formed by the hands of many, influences come from all over, and authorship is often opaque:
Chewbacca didn’t spring to life out of nowhere, fully formed when Lucas saw his dog in the passenger seat of his car. That’s the soundbite. A single step. The reality is complex and human. From vague names floating around, the kernel of an idea, changing purposes and roles of characters, major restructuring, the design hopping from person to person, scrapping the existing concept and going down a different path, seeing existing things in a different light and having to conform a range of ideas to complement and enrich one another.
When I bumped into Stephen Neary a couple nights ago, he told me about his new animated piece “Toxie” which debuted on NPR.org this morning and can be seen here. Produced for the show “Planet Money,” Toxie reenvisions a toxic asset as a cute but destructive pet creature. Stephen directed and animated, and Connie Li Chan provided assistant animation and backgrounds. The piece communicates a difficult concept quite effectively, and there’s some really nice character animation to boot–an impressive accomplishment especially considering their turnaround time was just three weeks.
This is the trailer for The Experience, a Jimi Hendrix-themed short that was produced to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of his death this year:
In the depths of a tropical valley, an adventurous young man discovers with surprise a giant amusement park dedicated to rock’n'roll. Curious, he decides to try a psychedelic Rollercoaster haunted by Jimi Hendrix. He is greeted by a mysterious jailer, looking like a voodoo sorcerer. During the ride, entirely on the rhythmes of the song “Voodoo Child”, the spirit of Jimi Hendrix manifests in the form of a voodoo doll.
The combination stop-motion, live-action and CG short was made by the French collective Pirates PépÃ¨res whose twelve members have an average age of 22. Like Nina Paley and her film Sita Sings the Blues, these guys made their animated film without bothering to license the music. Now they’re trying to raise $6,700 to license Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” from Experience Hendrix, the company that manages his musical estate. Afterwards they plan to release the film on-line.
The first time we wrote about Kirsten Lepore, she was studying at Maryland Institute College of Art where she’d made an inventive hand-drawn short called Story from North America. Now she’s a grad student in the experimental program at CalArts, and she’s turning out some top-notch work.
Bottle is the story of an unlikely friendship between a clump of sand and a pile of snow–a far more engaging concept than it may sound and the type of story that can only be told through animation. Kirsten uses stop motion to create a believably bittersweet fantasy within the natural outdoors, and her masterful storytelling has the ability to make us both smile and reach for a box of tissues.
If the heartwrenching final shot of the film is too much, here’s a brilliant and funny bit of animation she did that’ll cheer you up.
I’m sure there’ll be varying opinions on which one’s better–for the record, I think the original is more fun to watch and feels less labored–but Michael is curious to know why they did this in the first place: “Why would they put so much time, money and effort into a remake when they could use that same energy on making something original? Was it because of the big Disney strike that happened a few years earlier? Were they planning a package feature of remade shorts which never fully came to fruition?”
All I know is that my life would be a lot more productive if I could figure out how to always watch two cartoons at once.
UPDATE: David Gerstein, animation historian and author of Mickey And The Gang: Classic Stories In Verse, posted a comment about why the remake was made. The reasons are more complicated than one might believe and worth reading:
On June 27, 1939, Walt, Riley Thomson and Dave Hand screened nineteen early Mickey cartoons. The plan was to compile the best scenes from the shorts into a two-reel clip show for Mickey’s upcoming twelfth anniversary. MICKEY’S REVIVAL PARTY (as it was to have been called) would have opened with Mickey’s gang arriving at a studio cinema. As the vintage scenes unreeled on a “screen within a screen,” Mickey and friends in the audience would react in various comic ways.
There were only two problems with this. The elaborate manner in which the vintage scenes were to be reused precluded simply lifting them from old negatives and splicing them together. They would have to be reinked onto cels from the original animation drawings; repainted, retimed, and refilmed.
Another hindrance was that the old cartoons excerpted had to be from summer 1935 or earlier. Anything more recent might still be in release. This meant that there were very few color cartoons to include in the retrospective.
Walt decided to kill two birds with one stone. As the excerpted shorts were all to be reinked and repainted anyway, he decided to repaint some in color that had originally been in black and white: ORPHANS’ BENEFIT among them. Walt also saw an opportunity to retouch and improve the color in THE BAND CONCERT, the one short in the show that was originally in color. Story meeting transcripts reveal Walt repeatedly suggesting that remaking or upgrading older shorts could be an ongoing program, independent of REVIVAL PARTY.
That’s what ended up happening. REVIVAL PARTY director Riley Thomson completed a cutting continuity for use in preparing the excerpts; but for some reason, the clip show format ended up on the shelf. Instead, Thomson moved forward with remaking earlier cartoons in full-length, standalone form. ORPHAN’S BENEFIT came first. Then came MICKEY’S MAN FRIDAY, four early color Silly Symphony shorts, and ON ICE.
But then the bottom dropped out. ORPHAN’S BENEFIT, directed by Thomson, ended up the only exact Disney remake ever completed. MAN FRIDAY was shut down partway through animation; you can still see model sheets at various online animation galleries for what the updated models were going to look like.
The other remakes were shut down before animation. I’ve been unable to find out why.
Bill Plympton, who is prepping for the October 6th theatrical release of his feature Idiots and Angels in New York, has been writing a blog diary describing the tough slog of self-promoting an indie animated feature. In the course of doing so, he revealed a worthwhile news tidbit in one of his entries from last week:
Then I’m talking on the phone to Tom Akel of MTV who’s setting up a new animation web channel (he even wants to bring back Liquid Television) and wants to do some interviews and maybe show some of my shorts.
Akel’s on-line bio lists him as a supervising producer who heads digital production of shows and games across MTV.com. It’s nice that MTV is considering animation again, but in today’s bottom line-driven TV industry, don’t hold your breath for any network to aggressively embrace indie and short-form animation–even on-line.
Can anyone envision a Liquid Television-type program ever happening again, where a network would support animated programming without concern about profit or return on investment? I certainly can’t. And more importantly, in the bountiful world of on-line animation, who needs a corporate monolith as a curator of animated content?
MTV spent years cultivating an enviably hip identity through animated station IDs and short film commissions only to squander it all. If their on-line initiative recaptures some of that animation glory, nobody’s going to complain, but if they want to begin competing at this late stage in the game, they’re going to have to offer the Internet something truly special that hasn’t been seen before.
The Lost Thing, a fifteen-minute CG animated short with a tactile, painterly feel, is based on a children’s book by Shaun Tan. It won the top short film prize earlier this year at the Annecy International Animation Festival. Co-directed by Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, the film was produced by a micro-crew of four artists out of Passion Pictures Australia. All of the animation is credited to just one person–Leo Baker–who also did most of the rigging. Lots of info about the project in this article on Screenhub. Film website at TheLostThing.com.