Passion of the Walt

Re-Animating WaltBREW reader Gerit Vandenberg points out a rare small-press book currently posted on eBay: Neal Seymour’s novel RE-ANIMATING WALT. I’ve never heard of the book, but apparently it’s an amusing fictional what-if account of Walt Disney’s resurrection. Here’s Gerit’s description:

The book aspires to the innocent flavor of a Hardy Boys Mystery… Two young guys trying to make a buck working the janitorial night shift at a cryogenics lab accidentally hit the wrong switch with a mop handle, and presto! –unthawed living Walt. They whisk him home under the cover of night and nurse Walt back to human functionality. Walt then hangs out with the two lead characters and spins stories about the past and helps them film their own movie packed with Disney values.

I would love to see this concept realized into a film where Walt gets his revenge on Eisner with an electrical storm backdrop! The author also has a real penchant for technical details and he makes Walt describe the virtues of old Mitchell movie cameras. It’s a geek’s delight and a stupid, sloppy book. I love it!

Gerit also offers this dialogue excerpt from the part of the book where Walt is regaining consciousness…

“Am I in Heaven?” asked the patient whose voice was getting stronger and stronger by the minute. “It’s not quite what I expected. I didn’t go to church, but I always believed I was a Christian.”

“No, you’re in Studio City and we’re trying our best to warm you up,” said Tim.

(Thanks to Gerit for the news item headline as well. Couldn’t have thought of a better one.)

SIMPSONS D’OH

SIMPSONSHow do I feel about THE SIMPSONS voice actors asking for pay raises from $125,000 per episode to $360,000 per episode (or from about $3 million to $8 million per year), as well as demanding a share of the show’s profits? Frankly I think as talented as they are, there is no voice actor, not even the venerable Mel Blanc, who deserves that amount of money. Bear in mind, the vocal cast on THE SIMPSONS only puts in 6-7 hours of work per episode, which amounts to less than one month of labor throughout the year.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that the six principal voice actors – Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer – are the true stars of THE SIMPSONS. The animation and artwork are little more than a bland and formulaic stage for the writer’s precious one-liners and cloying pop culture references, which are somehow made more tolerable by the creative delivery of the vocal sextet. The show, which is still the second-highest rated program on Fox, earns the network $2.5 billion each year. And if this money doesn’t go to the voice actors, it also doesn’t benefit anybody else like the artists who toil on the show at Film Roman in North Hollywood or the animators who labor on it overseas. As Mark Evanier points out on his weblog, “The money the actors don’t get paid is money that the studio gets to keep…and even pay out in bonuses to people who have less to do with the show’s success than the actors.” Looking at it from that perspective, it seems that the voice actors are the lesser of two evils in this case, and more deserving of the money, although hardly the most deserving.

For more background on this dispute, here are articles from the NY TIMES and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER which explain the situation. Also this article from USA TODAY talks about the practical implications of the strike for fans of the show, and that’s a shortened 16th season of THE SIMPSONS. What I’m curious about is whether any artists at Film Roman have had to be temporarily laid off because of the strike, or whether there were enough episodes already in the pipeline to keep the production running smoothly?

ANIMATION MASTERS

grimGrim Natwickub iwerksUb IwerksASIFA-Hollywood and Vintage Ink & Paint have teamed to produce a series of collectible postcards and limited edition prints honoring great artists from the history of cartoon animation. The first two artists featured in the series are Ub Iwerks (a self portrait) and Grim Natwick (caricature by Chuck Jones). Included with the postcards and prints is biographical information on these important figures.
I just recieved a set of these postcards and they are really nice. I highly recommend these limited editions. A set of 20 5×7 inch postcards (10 of each) are available for $20 a set; and a pair of numbered 8×10 archival digital prints (1 of each) is $30 a set, plus shipping and handling. A significant portion of the proceeds from the sale of these items will be donated to the ASIFA Animation Archive Project.

Comic Con and Bill Plympton

Two of the special themes at the upcoming 35th San Diego Comic Con International (July 22-25, 2004) are animation related: the 75th anniversary of Popeye and the 90th birthday of Bob Clampett (as well as the 20th anniversary of the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award which the Con awards each year in Bob’s memory). No word yet on what special events they’re planning for these anniversaries. Also worth noting, two of the special Con guests this year are legendary voice actress June Foray and independent filmmaker Bill Plympton. Speaking of Bill, here’s a great interview with him on AICN where he offers his thoughts on the best way to get your film accepted into The Animation Show and explains the backstory of his new short film PARKING. He also offers the following quote, which serves as an elegant rebuttal to Mike Lazzo’s inane comments from an earlier post.

Bill Plympton: “Animation, for me, is the truest art form because the fantasies I have in my head really would be very difficult to do in live action. Animation seems to be the purest art form to expressing those visuals. And I must say they mostly are *visual*. I’m not a very good writer in terms of dialogue and scripting. I’m a visual person, and, for me, the subconscious of the brain really hatches these incredibly surrealistic and bizarre images.”

The reason Adult Swim is unwatchable

Here’s a gem of a quote from Cartoon Network’s Mike Lazzo, who heads up the network’s “Adult Swim” block:

“We knew adults really didn’t care about the quality of animation. With children, if you had something brightly colored and moving, you could make it go. But with adults, they become bored pretty quickly with the dancing brooms unless it’s exceedingly well done. From the start, words were more important than pictures.”

It is utterly astonishing for one of the top executives at a TV channel called CARTOON Network, which specializes solely in ANIMATION, to have the audacity to say that the very reason for the network’s existence is not a concern of his and that audiences also don’t care about it. So if the pictures are mere afterthought, then somebody kindly explain why the hell does Cartoon Network even exist?

John K. Radio Interview

Here’s an entertaining little interview with John Kricfalusi done a few months back on a Chicago radio station. John talks about the new REN & STIMPY episodes, and other things like how he first met Bjork and his involvement on the Heathcliff animated series in the Eighties. Download it here: PART 1 and PART 2. (Thanks to the website ‘Tweening with Meaning for posting this interview. Visit the site HERE.)

SIMPSONS STUFF

simpsonsWorth a listen: NPR’s “Day to Day” with guest Charles Solomon talking about the SIMPSONS voice cast demanding more money per episode. Reader Brock Gallagher says, “He makes some good points that people in the industry have been complaining about for years, mostly how when compared to the voice actors, the artists barely scrape by”.Also, on Sunday, a new episode of THE SIMPSONS, entitled “My Big Fat Geek Wedding,” features cartoonist/creator Matt Groening making his first guest appearance on the show. Groening appears as himself signing autographs for fans at a sci-fi convention.

MICKEY REIMAGINED

new mickeyHartman’s MICKEY The New York Times has posted a teriffic article (to be printed in Sunday’s edition) asking if Disney can ever really revive Mickey Mouse.Along with the article is a slideshow sidebar Mickey Reimagined which has half a dozen notable artists updating Mickey in various ways. The artists include Pete De Seve, Bruce McCall, Butch Hartman, Gary Baseman and Milton Glaser, along with several others.

GIGANTOR CREATOR DEAD

gigantorManichi News reports that cartoonist Mitsuteru Yokoyama, best known as the creator of the animation series GIGANTOR (aka Tetsujin 28-Go), suffered serious burns and died after a fire broke out at his Tokyo home early Thursday.He was 69. Noting that there were numerous cigarette butts in an ashtray in his bedroom, investigators said they suspect that the fire started because the artist failed to extinguish one of his cigarettes.

Kneitel, Sparber & Tytla

Which one of these doesn’t belong? I can’t get over this publicity photo of Disney great Bill Tytla, with Isadore Sparber and Seymour Kneitel together in the same 1945 publicity shot for Famous Studios—pitching a background painting to Little Lulu!). Yes we all know they worked together in the mid-40s, I just never saw a photo of them standing together—an odd couple (triple?) indeed! This is one of several behind the scenes photos from Famous Studio I plan to post one day (when I have a spare moment).

How To Ruin A Classic Character

POPEYEContinuing our Popeye news from a few days back, Fred Grandinetti (Popeye expert and author of the forthcoming book POPEYE: AN ILLUSTRATED CULTURAL HISTORY) is preparing a lecture on the subject: “How King Features Has Ruined Popeye.” The lecture will be given at a comic convention in Boston this summer and possibly at other venues. Here are the seven main points, based on his study of the audience’s perceptions over the years, of how the character has been ruined:

1 – Popeye switching from classic outfit to white sailor’s uniform

2 – The redesign of Olive Oyl

3 – The name change from Bluto to Brutus

4 – The poor quality of the TV cartoons produced by Al Brodax

5 – Popeye being used as mainly a product rather than as a character

6 – The decline in circulation of the comic strip

7 – Hearst Entertainment blocking the release of the Fleischer cartoons onto DVD/VHS.

If the still posted below of the CG Popeye is any indication, a number 8 can probably be added to this list too after the TV special airs later this year. Fred also writes that, “King has to realize that to ensure the on-going (not short-lived) success of their attempts to revive Popeye, they have to create good will among the fans. Corporate studios often forget this. I’m trying to use whatever influence I have on King to get them to give the fans what they want: classic Popeye on DVD (not more ’60s toons!)”

BASEMAN’S BOOK

monsters incMr. BasemanReminder: MOCA presents GARY BASEMAN, Lecture/Multimedia Show and Book Signing, Saturday, April 17th, 2:30pm. The Museum of Contemporary Art at California Plaza 250 S. Grand Ave., Downtown L.A.Meet the artist and celebrate the release of the first complete collection of his work, DUMB LUCK (Chronicle Books). Museum admission required for lecture attendance.
Another book signing at the MOCA Store the following day, SUNDAY, April 18, 3pm at 2447 Main St., in Santa Monica, CA.

An Inside Look At Animation In Iran

Here at the Brew, we frequently receive e-mails and press releases from various animation artists and studios around the world informing us of their latest animation projects. I recently received one from an animation director in Iran, Amir Dehestani, who wanted to let me know about a CG project that he’s directing, THE HOLY KINGS, which is comprised of 22 half-hour episodes that are also being edited into seven 80-minute made-for-TV features. The series, based on religious tales from the Koran and Torah, is one of the largest and most ambitious animation projects in Iranian animation history. It is being produced by Hoor Animation, in association with Saba Animation Company.

I was curious to find out more about the state of the animation industry in Iran, or perhaps more appropriately, find out whether the country even has an animation industry. As it turns out, animation in Iran is quite popular, and the industry is growing quickly, with CG animation in particular experiencing the largest growth. No doubt the industry is still small, budgets are low, and the number of experienced artists is relatively few, but one thing the country has working in its favor is a lot of young individuals with an enthusiasm and passion for cartoons. Iran also has its own ASIFA chapter (now in its 17th year), a new monthly animation magazine PILBAN (the website is only viewable with a Farsi web browser), a major animation festival (currently in its third edition), and independent artists with their own websites like IlaSolomon.com.

What follows are a few questions that I asked Amir via e-mail about the current state of the cartoon industry in Iran. To see examples of his work, check out the Hoor Animation website.

THE HOLY KINGSCartoon Brew: How many studios are there in Iran currently producing animation?

Amir Dehestani: There are only two major independent animation studios in Tehran who are devoted completely to producing animation, and they are Hoor Animation Association (founded in 1991 and for which I am working for) and Resaneh Fard. Of course the biggest name in Iranian animation is Saba Animation, but that is funded by Iranian National Television. At our studio Hoor there are about 40 animation professionals who are working in different fields – 3D & 2D, TV series & commercials. I don’t know exactly how many are working at Resaneh Fard, but I’d guess it must be around 15-20 people and they do only 2D animation for TV. They also recently completed a 2D animated feature about the prophet Joseph named THE SUN OF EGYPT that unfortunately did not do too well at the box office.

At Saba, there are probably about 200 animators and different animation-related jobs, and they work in 2D, 3D, stop motion and cut-out. Of course there are many independent animators working in the field but many of them are not animation professionals and create animation as a hobby or passion and receive their income from other kind of artistic (or non-artistic) jobs. In Iran, almost every TV station in the different states has an animation department but the quality of most of their works is not very good and the most important reason for that is the low budgets. Many of these people however are really talented and have a real passion for their work.

The other big name in Iranian animation is the animation department of IIDCYA (Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). In Iran we refer to this center as “KAANOON” and it is the oldest of the studios. I really don’t know how many people are working there, but they work mostly in traditional cel animation and stop motion. Kaanoon also puts on the Tehran Animation Festival.

Cartoon Brew: How much awareness is there in Iran about animation as an art form, and is there a lot of interest among younger individuals in pursuing animation as a career? Also how many schools are there that teach animation?

Amir Dehestani: There is a lot of awareness about animation as an art form in Iran and it has many fans. Of course the number of fans is still not comparable to the US, Japan or Europe, but there are many young adults and kids who are interested in animation, especially in computer animation. There is even an animation magazine, PILBAN, that has been published for more than a year now, so the future of this field is bright. At the present, animation is still a specialized field. In Iran there are only three universities that teach animation: The University of Radio & TV (BA degree), Art University (MA degree) and Tarbiat Modaress University (MA degree). I teach at the Art University currently and there is a lot of interest among students there. Additionally, there are some animation courses for other students who are studying cinema and graphics.

Cartoon Brew: What sort of animation is available in Iran to view, study and use for inspiration? Is it a lot of American animation, anime or other types of animation?

Amir Dehestani: Many kinds of major animated film resources are available for inspiration. All of the Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks/PDI films for example. There are not many anime resources available and it is hard to find. I’m a big fan of anime myself and I really enjoy the works of Miyazaki, Kawajiri and Otomo. Also I’m a big fan of comics – manga, fumetti, and bande dessine (Moebius, Bilal, Gimenez and Enrico Marini) but these kind of materials are almost impossible to find and I must say thank God for the Internet! Unfortunately due to the rarity of these materials, there is not much awareness about these artists here, and the animation and illustration books are difficult to find. One of the big resources is Internet websites on animation and illustration such as your site.

Thanks to Amir for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about cartoons in Iran.

VINTON’S POPEYE

bluto headAnimator Joel Brinkerhoff sent us some models for the POPEYE CG special when it was in development at Will Vinton Studios last year. We’ve posted them here
“I have mixed emotions looking at the Popeye still you posted,” says Brinkerhoff. “It was a project that I personally had worked on with great anticipation; it was also the project that helped remove Will Vinton from his studio after 27 years.””Jim Hardison wrote the last draft that I am aware of and I know he went back to the original Thimble Theater strip that Segar created for his characterizations. I would have been a lead animator and co-animation director had the projected stayed with Vinton. I did models from the Fleischer models sheets and mouth charts for the cg modelers so the look would have the same integrity as the classic cartoons.””Time will tell how successfully MainFrame made their translation; it’s all speculation as to what Will Vinton Studios would have done.”

Articles of Note

A few interesting articles for today: here’s an INTERVIEW with background painter Ron Dias, who started at Disney during SLEEPING BEAUTY and has since worked on SECRET OF NIMH, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? and many other projects. Next, the NEW YORK TIMES previews DreamWorks/NBC’s FATHER OF THE PRIDE, in which the show’s writers talk about how the lion characters are going to make fun of Al Gore and Dick Cheney. All this cutting-edge comedy for only $2.5 million per episode. And finally, a REVIEW of a new art exhibit at the Maitland Art Center (Orlando, Florida) which presents the fine art of animation artists.

LOONEY TUNES ON TCM

Heads up!On Friday, June 18th, Turner Classic Movies will devote a day to LOONEY TUNES IN HOLLYWOOD with cartoons, and the movies that are associated with them.
page miss glory
6:00 AM Acobatty Bunny (McKimson ’46) (Bugs Bunny sings “Laugh Clown Laugh”) followed by Lon Chaney’s Laugh, Clown, Laugh (’28)
7:30 AM Birth of a Notion (McKimson ’47) (Daffy Duck tangles with mad scientist Peter Lorre) followed by Mad Love (’35)
9:00 AM Miss Glory (Avery ’36) followed by Page Miss Glory (’35)
11:00 AM A Star is Hatched (Freleng ’38) followed by A Star is Born (’37)
1:15 PM Yankee Doodle Daffy (Freleng ’43) followed Yankee Doodle Dandy (’42)
3:45 PM The Bird Came C.O.D. (Jones ’42) followed by The Bride Came C.O.D. (’41)
5:30 PM Roughly Squeaking (Jones ’45) followed by Roughly Speaking (’45)
8:00 PM A Tale of two Kitties (Clampett ’42) followed by A Tale of Two Cities (’35)
10:30 PM Robin Hood Makes Good (Jones ’39) followed by The Adventures of Robin Hood (’38)
12:30 AM Thugs with Dirty Mugs (Avery ’39) followed by Little Caesar (’30)

SCRAPPYLAND

scrappyThis news is just to exciting to hold: Harry McCracken is building a new website devoted to Columbia’s biggest original cartoon star – SCRAPPY!SCRAPPYLAND isn’t ready for prime time just yet, but Harry’s got a lot of goodies planned. Says McCracken, “We’re trying to put together the definitive reference on the most famous 1930s cartoon character that nobody remembers. Eventually, we plan to offer a virtual museum, a filmography, essays, and other stuff. If you know Scrappy, you’ll like it here. If you don’t know Scrappy, you’ll be completely confused!”

Animation and Live-Action Working Together?

VAN HELSINGThe upcoming mega-budget live-action monster movie VAN HELSING will be supported by an animated prequel released direct-to-DVD: VAN HELSING: THE LONDON ASSIGNMENT. Universal Pictures is also releasing another animated DVD in May – THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: DARK FURY – which bridges the gap between the live-action film PITCH BLACK and its sequel THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK which will be released theatrically in summer ’04. I mention these two animated works to point out the larger trend of animated films being created to specifically promote and support the stories of live-action films. Other recent examples include the ANIMATRIX and the forthcoming prequel to Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL series. I expect we’ll be seeing quite a few more of these projects over the next couple years, although it remains to be seen whether it’s a legitimate new outlet for animation or simply a temporary fad among “hip” live-action directors like Tarantino and the Wachowski brothers.