Last notice: Just three days left to submit to Cartoon Brew TV’s Student Animation Festival. Click HERE for rules and submission details.
Last notice: Just three days left to submit to Cartoon Brew TV’s Student Animation Festival. Click HERE for rules and submission details.
Our special series “The Modern Art of Gene Deitch” continues this week with Pump Trouble, Deitch’s second long-form directorial effort at UPA-NY following Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat. We would like to dedicate this episode to the late, great Allen Swift, who passed away last week.
Here is Gene with the rest of the story about this film:
Steve Bosustow had no trouble whatever in luring me back to UPA in 1951, sending me to New York with the founding group of the studio there. So once again I was cashing in on the reputation established by Hollywood titans! I was coming in style to The Big Apple!
I could hardly have done that on my own. The challenge was to live up to the great reputation created by others. With that wonderful 3-egg, red, yellow, and blue UPA logo, we had no trouble getting commercial orders from the top agencies and organizations. I was soon not only a director, but a UPA director, and I had to somehow not smudge that lofty label. Soon we had two nearly simultaneous orders for iconic films–the first was for Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat. The second was for The American Heart Association, who wanted a two-reeler that would alert people in an entertaining way to the realities of heart disease. It could have been deadlyâ€¦..dull.
My friend and colleague, Bill Bernal, and I were then both of the opinion that Citizen Kane was the greatest movie ever. We hit upon a story idea that would unblushingly swipe the concept and structure, and form it into a cartoon documentary of a guy whose life has led him to believe he was doomed to die of a heart attack. We named our hypochondriac protagonist “Cordell Pump,” and thus the title, Pump Trouble. I put my big guns on the project, Cliff Roberts on design, Grim Natwick and Duane Crowther animating, and found a great dynamic Spanish composer, Carlos Surinach, for the music.
My storyboard called for eight speaking parts. Our studio secretary, Hedy Cramer, put out a call to the major talent agencies to send their best voice men to audition for the parts. When the day arrived, our reception room was haunch-to-paunch with the best voice talent in New York. I ran each one of them through the storyboard, asking them to choose which of the eight characters they’d like to try out for, and they each did well with one or another of the characters. I was recording the auditions so that I could later make my choices for the various parts. The last waiting actor was a slightly pudgy gent with thinning hair, named Allen Swift, at the time doing kooky voices on the Howdy Doody Show. When Swift got his turn, he pointed to one of the characters on my storyboard that he thought he could do well. His take on the character had me laughing so loudly that I didn’t realize that he started to also do one of the other voices. It too was great. “I think I could also to this one,” he said calmly in his naturally quiet voice.
You guessed it. Allen Swift ended up doing all eight voices so perfectly that I sent all the other men and women home. That was how we met, and Allen is my best friend to this day.
A reminder: only TEN days are left to send in submissions for Cartoon Brew TV’s Student Animation Festival. Visit our festival page for rules and submission information. We have received several dozen entries to date from the US, Canada, and across Europe and Asia, and we are delighted not only by the number of submissions but by the quality of the work. The task of selecting the line-up of films for our inaugural festival will not be easy.
Welcome to our very special film series “The Modern Art of Gene Deitch.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting some of the rarest and most obscure modern shorts by animation legend Gene Deitch. To kick off the series, we’re starting with what is arguably his rarest film: Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat, a short that he created at the renowned mid-century animation studio UPA (United Productions of America). Lost for over half a century and only discovered last December, this film has never been publicly exhibited. Nearly sixty years later, we’re delighted and honored to present the world premiere of the film. Click over to Cartoon Brew TV to watch Gene Deitch’s Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat.
Welcome to the first entry in our very special series “The Modern Art of Gene Deitch.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting some of the rarest and most obscure modern shorts by animation legend Gene Deitch. To kick off the series, we’re starting with what is arguably his rarest film: Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat. It is a film that Deitch spent over half a century attempting to track down and it was discovered only last December following this post on Cartoon Brew. The film marks his first directorial effort at United Productions of America (UPA), the modernist animation studio that defined the look of mid-century cartoon animation.
We’re going to hand the floor over to Gene now and and let him tell everybody the story of how this film came to be. If you have any questions or comments for Gene, please share them in the comments.
In June 1949 I left my dream job as Bobe Cannon’s Production Designer at UPA Burbank, to take up an offer to become a director at the Jam Handy Organization in Detroit. It was a risky career move, but it worked out, as I managed to prove myself enough in two years as a director at JHO to induce Steve Bosustow to fly to Detroit and make me an offer I couldn’t refuse: if I would go to New York as a member of the founding group of the planned UPA/Manhattan studio, in the temporary function as studio Production Designer, I would be in line to become a director within one year. Steve tried to explain to me that the condition was necessary because he had somehow committed the position of director to Abe Liss, but he regarded it as “temporary.” As things developed in New York, there was a great tension between Abe and Steve. I never found out what it was, but in a matter of months, Abe left UPA and I was in fact named Creative Director of the studio. I was not happy about the circumstances, as being so set-up, but I was of course delighted that my early Hollywood dreams of become a UPA director had come true. All this is just to emphasize how eager I was to prove myself, and I put everything I had into that goal.
I very soon won twice the New York Art Directors Club Gold Medal for my Steinberg Jell-O commercials, and soon had a chance to make my first UPA entertainment short. It was a custom production order from the Kagran Corporation, the owner of the hot daily NBC-TV show Howdy Doody. In 1953 we were commissioned to make a low-budget pilot film for a proposed Howdy Doody animation series.
The catch to this opportunity was that all of us bright young hotshot UPA stars absolutely hated the Howdy Doody show, and felt that the puppet itself was gross–a ten on a kitsch scale of one to ten. We determined to “improve” the Howdy Doody character to the level of our hallowed UPA design standard. After all, we were already the toast of New York animation, raking in the prizes and publicity. We simply couldn’t lower ourselves to something so crude, even if the client was paying us to do just that. So we just blithely went ahead with transforming Howdy Doody in our own image.
Unfortunately, this God-like endeavor went down in flames. Kagran paid for the film, but “Buffalo Bob” Smith, Howdy Doody’s Daddy, hated what we had wrought, and ordered the negative destroyed. Our little pride and joy experiment was never shown publicly, and was never properly listed on the International Motion Picture Database. In plain language, it simply did not exist.
A 16mm print did exist. I had managed to liberate it when I left UPA. The heavens still punished me when this “one and only existing print” vanished without a trace in an international shipment. I spent the next fifty years–a full half-century–in a fervid but fruitless effort to track down another print. Not that this little film was any kind of a marvel, but simply because it was the very first film to bear the screen credit, “Directed by Gene Deitch,” and thus personally important in my own history. Further, it was a pretty good example of early 1950s animation thinking. The actual film was animated in a very low-budget paper cutout technique with a few camera effects.
Above all, at this late date, I would like to recognize my great departed collaborators on this long ago effort: the budding genius animator, Duane Crowther; the brilliant and not nearly enough appreciated graphic designer, Cliff Roberts, who I had discovered in Detroit; Bill Bernal, my closest friend and collaborator to the end of his life, who co-authored the folk-based story with me; and the brilliant avant composer, Serge Hovey, who I never saw again. All of those great people are gone but are strongly in my memory. The only other survivor of the creative team that made this little film, aside from myself, is Ken Drake, who rode shotgun on our studio Acme animation camera. Ken and I are still in daily email contact. He too will have his memory shaken when he sees the film today!
No one else has ever seen it before. Now, whoever is interested will be able to view it and make whatever judgement as to its place in the animation history scheme. Now, fifty-seven years after it was made, a miracle has happened, and you can have your chance to judge whether this long search made sense. After all this time, due to the relentless efforts of Jerry Beck, never to allow an animation discovery to elude him, and because he is such a loyal fan, a reasonably well-preserved 35mm print has been located in the deepest and darkest archives of the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington. D.C. So that’s it. Does this film show anything ahead of its time, or should it be allowed to rest in peace? Take a look.
(Our thanks to Dave Gibson for his detective work at the Library of Congress, and OndÅ™ej MuÅ¡ka for his restoration work on the print)
Beginning next week, join us at Cartoon Brew TV for a special film series celebrating the “Modern Art of Gene Deitch.” If you think you’re familiar with the animated works of the legendary Gene Deitch, think again. We’ve been collaborating with the master himself to dig out his rarest and most obscure modernist shorts. We even found one film that Gene hadn’t seen in fifty-five years! Many of the films in our line-up are industrial and educational shorts which were never intended to last more than a few years, much less into the 21st century. But the artistry and craftsmanship that Gene and his crew put into the films have given them a far longer shelf-life than anybody anticipated–and soon audiences will be enjoying them again.
It’s the time of year when lots of students are adding the finishing touches to their films so it’s a perfect time to announce Cartoon Brew TV‘s inaugural student animation festival. We’ve lamented privately for years that no online showcase exists for really great student films so we’ve decided to take it upon ourselves and present a showcase on Brew TV. We want to give the spotlight to student shorts of the highest caliber–the most original, the most thought-provoking, the ones that make us laugh out loud, the most emotionally engaging. Screenings will begin on Brew TV in May, one new film a week for up to eight weeks, depending on the number of submissions that are accepted.
Here are the rules: Obviously, it must be a student film. Films cannot be posted online anywhere before their premiere on Cartoon Brew TV. Only works completed after March 1, 2009 will be considered. Submission deadline is April 30, 2010. To submit, please email a private link of your film to studentfest (at) cartoonbrew (dot) com (ex. a password-protected Vimeo page or on a personal webpage). This is NOT a contest; every film that we choose to present will be compensated with the same fee that we pay all filmmakers who participate in Brew TV. Selection committee is comprised of Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi. Selections will be announced on May 3.
Cartoon Brew launched six years ago today. We’re not doing a whole lot to celebrate–unless eating raisins counts as a celebration–but we didn’t want to let the day pass without some sort of acknowledgment. It would be an understatement to say that the online animation scene is different today than when we launched in March 2004. Back then there was no YouTube or Vimeo, no animation podcasts, only a handful of animation blogs (our pathetic blogroll from March 2004 illustrates the barren landscape of the time), and a much smaller community of animators and cartoon aficionados online. Since those days, the online animation community has grown a lot, and if our site traffic is any indication, continues to grow a lot. In fact, if we may blow our own horn for a moment, we’ve set new traffic records on the Brew five of the last six months.
Your enthusiasm and excitement for this amazing art form and its limitless possibilities is what keeps us motivated to update everyday. And we’re not planning to stop anytime soon. Cartoon Brew TV will return in April with a very special month of new episodes, and we’re refreshing the site’s look and adding new features later this spring. To be sure, many people gravitate to the site for our occasionally controversial topics, but we get our greatest satisfaction from exposing readers to new films, artists, and ideas. When somebody tells us that we made them aware of a classic piece of animation they hadn’t seen before, or when a young, talented artist writes to say that being featured on the Brew got them a job, that’s when we know we’ve done our job right. Who knows what the next six years will bring, but even if the entire industry switches over to making “emotion capture” films, we promise to keep doing what we do as long as you keep reading and participating. Cheers!
Dear Sesame Street,
We, the undersigned, would like to register our concern over the contest you are now conducting with Aniboom. We are concerned that your contest includes a solicitation of original design concepts, characters and content to be produced on a speculative basis by cartoonists, artists, motion designers and animators.
This approach, requesting new and original work to be created in competition, is one that we believe seriously compromises the quality of work that is entered into “competition” and is questionable, at best, for a reputable organization to request.
Sesame Street has long been a highly esteemed provider of educational programming for children. From its inception, it has shown respect and support for the independent animation, film, and design communities. Artists have responded by creating lasting work — that is as valuable for children and adults today as when it was first created. We applaud that work, and hope that Sesame Street will continue to push the fields of animation and film-making. As such, we also think that Sesame Street should uphold the ethics and professional behavior we’d like our own children to grow up with. Is the education we want to pass on to them that artists’ and animators’ work is not valuable? That the only way to ‘make it’ is through winning a contest?
There is a more appropriate way to explore the work of various artists. A more effective and ethical approach to commission new work is to ask a pool of talent to submit examples of their work from previous assignments as well as a statement of how they would approach your project. You can then judge the quality of the artist’s previous work and her way of thinking about your project. The artist you select can then begin to work on your project by designing an original solution to your criteria while under contract to you, without having to work on speculation up front.
Design should not be a one-way street, with artists creating work in a vacuum. We believe the best design, art and content comes at the request of a specific brief, mission or client. Speculative design competitions and processes result in superficial assessments of the project at hand that are not grounded in a client’s specific needs. Art always has something to say.
There are few professions where all possible candidates are asked to do the work first, allowing the buyer to choose which one to compensate for their efforts. (Just consider the response if you were to ask a dozen lawyers to write a brief for you, from which you would then choose which one to pay!) We realize that there are some creative professions with a different set of standards, such as advertising and architecture, for which billings are substantial and continuous after you select a firm of record. In those cases, you are not receiving the final outcome (the advertising campaign or the building) for free up front as you would be in receiving an original film or character design.
There are many artists, animators and cartoonists who can provide you with original and highly creative new work that will far exceed your expectations, with respect for an appropriate budget and schedule. We can think of dozens off of the tops of our heads who we’re sure would love to work with Sesame Street. And we’d would love to point you in their direction.
We believe that “leveraging the power of the web” is an exciting prospect and casting a wide net can quickly provide many interesting results. But we think that more considered curation and the selection of applicants whose goals may be more closely aligned with your own can provide better results.
It’s your contest, though and you are free run it as you wish. But you will do so without our participation.
Your consideration of these professional issues is greatly appreciated.
See the full list of document signers and how to put your name on the list after the jump. (UPDATE: Over 200 people have now signed the letter.)
Cartoon Brew’s traffic has grown significantly over the past few months resulting in an increase in the number of comments posted by readers. We welcome everybody’s participation, but to ensure a high level of discourse and civility, please make sure to review our guidelines for posting comments before commenting on the site. The following two points will be more strictly enforced in the future:
* It is OK to post with a nickname or alias, but your email address (which we will NEVER share publicly), must be a real, permanent email address. Comments with fake or non-permanent emails will be deleted.
* Be considerate and respectful of others in the discussion. If your comment is defamatory, rude or unnecessarily antagonistic, it will be deleted without comment.
News media stories about the Oscars are cropping up all over and all of them are parroting the same factoid: Up is only the second time since the inception of the award that the Academy has nominated an animated film for Best Picture. (The first time was Beauty and the Beast in 1991.) What they should be writing is that today is a milestone day because two animated films were nominated for an Oscar: Up and Avatar.
There is little doubt in the minds of both Brewmasters, Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi, that Avatar will eventually be recognized as an animated feature as more and more films are created using the constantly evolving performance capture animation technique. Within the industry, most already recognize the film as heavily animated, from top feature film animators who wonder why Avatar‘s animators are receiving so little credit for their work on the film to animation union rep Steve Hulett who stated that if, “Avatar isn’t halfway to three-quarters animation, I will eat my computer.” Most importantly, had this film been submitted to the Academy for consideration in the animated feature category, it would have qualified under the Academy’s own rules.
While James Cameron’s publicity machine may be unwilling to acknowledge the extent of animation used in creating Avatar, let us be the first to congratulate Mr. Cameron on his nomination for his groundbreaking piece of animation.
We’ve got a new short on Cartoon Brew TV today: Together! (2009) directed by David Sheahan. This was a thesis film created at Pratt Institute. David is participating in the comments section below so fire away if you have any questions. Also, be sure to visit his website TastyHand.com where he’s posted concept artwork and the original music that he composed for the film.
Here are director’s notes from Mr. Sheahan:
In the real world, you would never expect things to go well in the personal lives of bugs. You probably wouldn’t care. But this unhappy insect couple are fascinating and familiar. Yet at the same time, they are the squashably despicable stars of my film Together!
It’s fun and and traditional to hang a cartoon around a collection of gags and slapstick. I toyed with making that kind, but story drives this film. There is just enough symbolism in Together! to punctuate any gut reaction with a question mark. The main symbol is the television, representing the sinister side of the illusions that so often guide our lives. We all know that the glowing screens we watch make a nice, sticky trap.
It’s tricky to place my influences. Today, Madame Butterfly. Tomorrow, Meet the Feebles. So far, I’ve heard S. Clay Wilson. Amid mentioned Ralph Bakshi. I love late-Thirties and early-Forties American cartoons. I try not to imitate them though. That would bore me.
I benefited from getting to know New York animators while working on Superjail!, and from the talented students around me, all of whom I look up to in one way or another: Maya Edelman, Javan Ivey, Katie Cropper, Jake Armstrong, and Kat Morris (among many others). Thanks to all.
We wanted to take a moment to thank some of our recent sponsors. We’re growing the site and planning lots of great things for the future on Cartoon Brew, and it is in large part due to the support of the companies and individuals who advertise on the site.
Our major sponsor for the past couple months has been Animation Mentor. They do a fine job of training students for CG animation work, and we’re glad to have them on board. If you’re curious to find out more about the school, they are hosting a live, behind-the-scenes look tomorrow evening, September 17, at 6pm(PST). You can register to virtually attend the free webinar at Animation Mentor’s website.
Other sponsors who have joined us recently include:
For info about advertising on Cartoon Brew, please visit Reachout Media.
Today’s 22nd episode of Cartoon Brew TV is a special one as we present an exclusive preview of Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation, The Princess and the Frog. This behind-the-scenes clip, courtesy of The Walt Disney Company, discusses the villain of the film, Dr. Facilier. The piece, entitled “Conjuring the Villain,” includes comments from supervising animator Bruce Smith and voice actor Keith David about their work on the character. Click over to Cartoon Brew TV to catch an early look at Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.
Comic-Con International: San Diego is coming up in less than three weeks. If you are running a booth or promoting a sketchbook, comic or toys, why not advertise on Cartoon Brew? We are offering a special Comic-Con rate for a limited number of small box ads (at right) that will run for two weeks (July 13th through 27th). Use the ad to let people know where you will be at the Con–or use it to reach thousands world-wide who cannot make it. The deadline to reserve space at this special rate is July 9th. Drop an email to our sales rep at Reachout Media and we will connect you to the Brew.