Last night I attended the opening of the Tim Burton exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and quite simply, it’s terrific! I’ll be writing more about it soon, but if you are in the NY area anytime between now and next April, make a point of checking out this show.
We got in a bit earlier than most folks last night, and while we were looking at the exhibit, Tim Burton walked into the room. If you can forgive the shaky phone video, here’s a sweet little moment I caught between Burton and actor Geoffrey Holder:
We’ve already linked to this, but this interview with Ralph Bakshi has some really shrewd insights peppered throughout. One of his comments that stood out most is his opinion of Pixar:
I don’t see too many new films today as it is – just sitting in the theater and watching all of that money on the screen, wishing that I had even a tenth of it to do some of the things that I wanted. It’s just a hard pill for me to swallow. On the other hand, thinking about a place like Pixar having to spend $150 million on a film is another hard pill for me to swallow. I don’t think animation is worth that kind of money. I think it’s part of the problem. With everything that’s happened to this country, where do we come off spending that kind of money?…The kind of money they spend, the expertise, and the various departments they have is startling. Those films better be good, because basically the guys have no choice. It better be good, or they’re wasting a lot of money.
Bakshi has a point. Has all that money really made animation any better? How much better would CG animated features be if budgets were voluntarily cut by the studios and directors were forced again to make creative decisions instead of spending all their time gilding lilies. Too many computer animated films today have the gaudy feel of things created by dictators who spend tons and tons of money and still end up with aesthetic and conceptual eyesores. Hollywood is never going to return to Bakshi’s days of shoestring animated features made quickly and with passion, but reining in the ever-ballooning budgets of computer animation might result in less inflated, self-important films that actually leave a lasting impact.
The Bergdorf Goodman Men’s Store in Manhattan has fantastic window displays this season…Fantastic Mr. Fox displays that is. The twelve windows feature character puppets, props and background elements that were used in the production of the film. The store is located at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street. My pal C. Edwards who snapped the iPhone pics above pointed out that Wes Anderson’s twee aesthetic was also applied to the Louis Vuitton display windows with The Darjeeling Limited. Better photos of the displays can be found on this website.
It makes me real happy knowing so many folks in animation enjoy my book Cartoon Modern, but it’s no less a delight when I discover people outside of animation have also taken a liking to it. Above is a photo of Sandi Vincent’s perfectly curated mid-century modern home. If you look closely, you’ll see a certain book laying on her Danish wall unit. On the photo’s Flickr page, she generously labels Cartoon Modern as the “best picture book on the shelf.” Thanks, Sandi. Be sure to check out the rest of her Flickr photostream for more mid-century mod goodies.
Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No by James Blagden isn’t going to win any awards for its animation, but it packs a real punch as a short film. Actually, it’d be hard to screw up the story, which is a colorful recording by former baseball pitcher Dock Ellis describing how he pitched a no-hitter in 1970 while under the influence of LSD. Much of the short’s success comes from Ellis’s storytelling–his line “Ooh, I just made a touchdown” is hilarious even without drawings–while Blagden’s semi-realistic illustration style and oddball eye movements on the characters provide enough visual accompaniment to make it work. Even the amateurish filmmaking elements, like unnecessarily dividing the film up into parts, didn’t ruin the overall effect for me. Ellis, for his part, became an anti-drug crusader before he passed away last year.
The Tim Burton retrospective opens on November 22 at MoMA. Animation has played a significant role in Burton’s career, and continues to figure into his work as evidenced by this animated trailer he created to promote the exhibit:
Directed by Tim Burton
Produced by Mackinnon and Saunders
CGI Animation: Flix Facilities
Animation: Chris Tichborne
Lighting Camera: Martin Kelly
Music by Danny Elfman
The Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema is back for its 9th edition, and festival organizer Joseph Chen has compiled another fantastic line-up of foreign animated features that can’t be found anywhere else in North America. Chen’s smart curation is yet another step towards challenging the ever-prevalent misconception in North America of animation as a kiddie art form. The selections include films that we’ve discussed on the site recently such as The Secret of Kells, Mary and Max, Panic in the Village and Boogie the Oily One, along with other features that hail from Russia, Serbia, Sweden, and Japan. There is also a retrospective of a couple vintage Russian animated features. The festival takes place from November 19-22 at the Gig Theatre (137 Ontario Street North) in Kitchener, Ontario. Film details as well as ticket info can be found on the festival website at WFAC.ca.
Start making your predictions now! The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today that twenty films have been submitted for consideration in the Animated Feature Film category. As we discussed last week on the Brew, this means there will be five nominees in the category for only the second time since the inception of the award. The submitted films are:
“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”
“Battle for Terra”
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”
“Disney’s A Christmas Carol”
“The Dolphin — Story of a Dreamer”
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”
“Mary and Max”
“The Missing Lynx”
“Monsters vs. Aliens”
“The Princess and the Frog”
“The Secret of Kells”
“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”
“A Town Called Panic”
One important note: seven of these films have not yet completed their LA qualifying run: “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” “The Dolphin — Story of a Dreamer,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Planet 51,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “The Secret of Kells” and “A Town Called Panic.” Also, there is still the possibility that films will be disqualified from the field if they do not fulfill the category’s requirements. With this many films in the running though, we’re most definitely looking at a five-nominee field this year.
UPDATE: Looks like The Dolphin is playing at the Laemmle Claremont 5 starting December 11 – same theater and week as A Town Called Panic, per Laemmle Theatres website
The Secret of Kells will be at the AMC Burbank 8 December 4-10 at 7 PM, per the Kells Blog.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, the Rauch Bros. have posted on-line their short but powerful film Germans in the Woods. The film’s audio track is recorded by WWII vet Joseph Robertson who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. More details about the film can be found on the Rauch Bros. website and their online store offers pieces of original artwork from the film.
Dani from the Spanish animation blog Protoones turned me on to Puck Cinema Caravana, a cool little project from Spain conceived by Carles Porta and Toni TomÃ s. In short, Carles and Toni got their hands on a trailer home, decorated it beautifully on the outside, outfitted the inside with a cinema, and are roaming the Spanish countryside screening rare animated shorts for young and old alike. There is a more in-depth description on the Puck Cinema Caravana blog:
“Puck is a caravan fitted out as a cinema. Its inside is a tiny cinema, maybe the smallest in the world. There is room for seven people. Puck shows animation films which are not usually broadcast on TV. There is a wide selection of international films from all around the world that have been made throughout time. The menu is varied but selected. It aims mostly to the spirit.
The objective is to capture a brand new lover of animated cinema or simply be able to recover the experience of cinema in a particular way in order to enjoy in a short time a little big piece of work of audiovisual creation.”
They’ve put a lot of care and detail into the presentation and branding of their cinema, from the beautiful paint job on the exterior of their cinema-on-wheels to this cute animated trailer:
I can’t get enough of mid-century educational and safety-related animated shorts so I’m delighted to see a contemporary take on those films with The Responsibility Project from Liberty Mutual, which is a series of entertainment shorts intended to “create a forum for people to discuss personal acts of responsibility.” The most impressive animated short created for the program thus far is Good Vibrations by French animator Jérémy Clapin, the director of Skhizein. The four-minute film, which is directed, designed and written by Clapin, manages to be funny and entertaining while slyly slipping in its message about the necessity of individuals taking initiative instead of rubbernecking. With his strong graphic concepts and effortless visual storytelling, Clapin’s work continually impresses, and he’s proving himself to be one of the more exciting new voices in animation. Watch Good Vibrations on the Liberty Mutual website.
Allison Schulnik‘s video for Grizzly Bear is an unabashedly handmade stop motion piece. The colorful smears of lumpy clay are put through Bruce Bickford-esque transformations, and the imagery is manipulated well to match the haunting tone of the music. Schulnik is a graduate of the experimental program at CalArts.
A Christmas Carol pulled in $30 million last weekend, falling short of industry expectations, which had ranged from $35 to $40 million. According to Box Office Mojo, the film sold fewer tickets than other recent holiday-themed films like Elf, The Santa Clause 2 and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Seventy-four percent of the film’s gross came from 3D presentations, and it was the best opening weekend of Zemeckis’s career. The opening was nearly identical to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, though that film opened in 500 fewer theaters in a slower box office period and had no megastar anchor like Carrey.
Speaking of Cloudy, while no longer in the top ten, but it added another $1.3M over the weekend for a total of $121 million. It has surpassed Disney’s Bolt at the domestic box office, and will end up grossing in the range of Bee Movie and Robots. It’s Sony’s first animated feature to cross the $100M mark.
Meanwhile, Astro Boy is officially a bomb. After three weeks, the film’s cume stands at a measly $15.1 million. Its final gross should be somewhere in the low-to-mid twenties, putting it alongside Titan A.E. and The Iron Giant, and far below last year’s Space Chimps, which took in $30.1M.
Last week on Late Show with David Letterman, Ricky Gervais shared this clip from his upcoming HBO animated series that uses audio from his popular podcast series with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. The show is being produced out of Wild Brain LA. The lead designer on the series is Craig Kellman.
To put it bluntly, if Scroogely, Disney’s 3-D animated version of “A Christmas Carol” is a calamity. The pace is predominantly glacial–that alone would be enough to cook the goose of this premature holiday turkey–and the tone is joyless, despite an extended passage of bizarre laughter, several dazzling flights of digital fancy, a succession of striking images and Jim Carrey’s voicing of Scrooge plus half a dozen other roles. “Why so coldhearted?” Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, asks the old skinflint. The same question could be asked of Robert Zemeckis, who adapted and directed the film, and of the company that financed it. Why was simple pleasure frozen out of the production? Why does the beloved story feel embalmed by technology? And why are its characters as insubstantial as the snowflakes that seem to be falling on the audience?
And that’s just the first paragraph of his review. I watched this short clip from the film, and it is sufficiently inept enough to prevent me from wanting to see any more. What did it for me is the scene at about 1:15 in which a ghost floats rapidly towards Scrooge and knocks him backwards. Scrooge then does a backroll and pops up off the floor in a way that is so comically devoid of the laws of physics and inappropriate to the physical movement of a realistic human that all dramatic impact is instantly drained from the scene. This film may technically qualify as animation, but good animation it isn’t.
Zemeckis’s desecration of this holiday classic comes at a reported cost of $180 million, and box office projections range between $35 to $45 million this weekend.
My favorite site of the moment: Curious Pages, a newly launched blog about obscure but outstanding children’s books from the 1800s all the way up through today. The brief descriptions of the books are often quite funny, and the selection is eclectic, such as this Czech version of The Wizard of Oz painted in a Paul Klee style or the Art Deco-ish etching of A Head for Happy, which is about a headless doll. There are even a couple of animation-related items, like Mel Crawford’s adaptation of UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing (picture above). The impeccable curation can be attributed to the blog owners, who are two talented children’s book authors and illustrators in their own right, Lane Smith and Bob Shea.
The potential gamechangers in the Oscar race (clockwise from upper left): The Missing Lynx, A Town Called Panic, The Secret of Kells, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure
As Jerry pointed out a few weeks ago, the big question for the animated feature Oscar category this year is whether they’ll reach the magic number of sixteen qualifying features, which triggers the five-nominee playing field. Fifteen qualifying features or less results in only three nominees. It will be close. One of the films that entered, Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone was recently disqualified on a technicality, and it’s unclear whether all of the other films that have been released this year have entered for qualification. The rules are confusing and just because a film is released theatrically in LA doesn’t automatically qualify it; last year, films like Space Chimps and Star Wars: The Clone Wars didn’t bother to enter, thus limiting the category to three nominees.
A five-nominee field is beginning to look like a real possibility. Director Raul Garcia is currently in the process of qualifying his feature, The Missing Lynx: Paws on the Run, while Disney gave Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure a one-week LA run before its dvd release. Jerry reported yesterday that the French-Belgian co-production A Town Called Panic is moving through the qualification process, and Tomm Moore, director of The Secret of Kells, mentioned on his blog the other day that they’re trying to get the film qualified.
An article in National Geographic discusses the results of an “uncanny valley” test on monkeys. Researchers showed monkeys three versions of a monkey on a monitor–one video of a real monkey; one stylized CG model; and one realistic “uncanny valley” animated face. Guess what happened? The research suggests that “given the choice, monkeys prefer to look anywhere other than at a realistic fake monkey.”
The monkeys looked more often, and longer, at the real deal and the unrealistic fake, study co-author Asif Ghazanfar said. “This is anecdotal, but they seemed to even avert their gaze from the realistic fake face, like they didn’t want to look at it,” said Ghazanfar, a Princeton psychology professor.
The article goes on to say:
The discovery may be important, for a couple of reasons. First, Ghazanfar said, it provides evidence supporting the theory that the uncanny valley is not a result of cultural preferences–it’s hardwired into our heads.
Here’s something the great Art Babbitt uttered in 1941.
“I look forward to the day when real artists who are more than craftsmen, who have developed their art, will come into this business, will pay it the attention it deserves as a potentially serious art medium…Disney and other studio heads have actually held the industry back by years by their ‘out-of-the-world’ fantasies, by their refusal to deal with real life and by their enchantment with ‘calendar art.’ I want to see those days go by the board. I want to see real artists assume leadership in this game.”
One could say the exact same thing about today’s mainstream animation, and sadly, it would all still apply.
As a historian, I get a real kick whenever I discover that somebody I had no idea was still alive is, in fact, alive and well. Such is the case with this article in the Monterey County Herald which reveals that Maxine Patin is still around at 95, and is even having a show of her paintings this weekend. She was married to Ray Patin, who was an animator before launching Ray Patin Productions, one of the most successful TV commercial studios in LA during the 1950s. (A lot of the studio’s art can be found online including here and here.) It doesn’t appear that Maxine ever worked in animation, but it’s clear that she’s lived quite a full life herself. I particularly liked this quote from her daughter: “She has a beauty, intelligence and a nobility that she’s completely unaware of – and that, in itself, is part of her beauty. She doesn’t know how not to be kind. She doesn’t know how to put on airs because she came from a generation of people who never learned how to manipulate. What you see is what you get.”
I was blown away earlier today when I discovered the work of Rebecca Dart. She has a fantastic sense for funny appealing shapes, and powerful cartoon drawing. It wasn’t surprising to learn that she works in animation, and again, no surprise to see her credits on her IMDB filled with some of the crassest TV trash imaginable. It’s hard to adequately put into words how depressing it is to know that talent of this caliber exists within our industry, and the rampant cluelessness that results in these artists producing shit like this. It’s like hiring Velázquez or Vermeer to paint the lines in a parking lot – an utter, total waste of skill and talent. Though the animation world has no appreciation or use for such skill, she’s at least able to utilize her artistic voice in the comic books she makes.
The 1971 X-rated feature The Telephone Book screens Thursday evening, November 5, at the Egyptian Theatre. The film, described as a “biting satire on sexual morality about a girl who falls in love with the world’s greatest obscene phone caller,” probably isn’t for everybody. But it has developed a cult reputation over the years and was considered a source of inspiration for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris while Steve Martin labeled it one of his favorite films of the Seventies.
The reason it’s on the Brew is because the climax of the film is an outlandish and humorously erotic piece of animation directed by my pal, animation legend Len Glasser. Len has an illustrious history in the field. A student of Franz Kline and S. Neil Fujita, he worked at Terrytoons on Tom Terrific and designed films and commercials for Ernie Pintoff before starting his own commercial studio Stars and Stripes Productions Forever, which produced some of the craziest and most creative TV spots of the 1960s. Here’s one of his well-known spots:
The Egyptian screening will be followed by a Q&A with Len, along with the film’s director/writer Nelson Lyon and producer Merv Bloch. The film was also recently released on dvd in Europe. Ordering details can be found on the film’s official website.