Fantagraphics Article

Nice article in this week’s SEATTLE WEEKLY about indie comic publisher Fantagraphics. The piece relates that in the 28-year history of the company, they’ve been on the brink of bankruptcy numerous times, but the company is currently enjoying relative stability as a result of their deal to publish the complete run of Charles Schulz’s PEANUTS. The first volume of PEANUTS has sold over 100,000 copies in only four months of release, already more than any other title in Fantagraphics history. And the success of Fantagraphics is great news for everybody because it means they’ll publish other cool comic/illustration books like THE MISCHIEVOUS ART OF JIM FLORA, which should be shipping any day now. (via Boing Boing)

DVD Plugs

A few DVD’s of note that I’ve received in the mail recently:

Politics and animation always seem to mix nicely, and the on-line short BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A JOB? is no exception. The film is a not-so-friendly indictment of Bush’s presidency, executed in classic black-&-white ’30s cartoon style and it’s now available on DVD for $8 ($6 + $2 shipping/handling). There’s a limited run of 200 copies.

The fine folks at fluorescent hill sent me a reel of their latest work and it’s a variety of stylish hand-drawn, stop motion, live-action and mixed-media works. Fluorescent is a Canadian collective of directors/animators comprised of Mark Lomond, Darren Pasemko and Johanne Ste-Marie. About their films, Lomond says, “Our work falls somewhere in between indy music video…independent animation…and sell outs…but generally accepted by none of those circles.” I especially enjoyed the music video “Joey” and their opening for the Montreal Student Film Festival. You can see their work at fluorescenthill.com.

It took me a couple weeks to decide whether I even wanted to put this next DVD into my player, but I finally took the chance and THE MEATY MCMEAT SHOW is indeed a most unique experience. It’s like SEINFELD, except Jerry is Meaty McMeat, a diseased heart with a rotating eyeball, who discusses life and philosophy with his friends Spleeny McSpleen, Lungy McButter and Sticky McStick. I’m still trying to make my way through the whole film, but I’ll say one thing. We all have crazy ridiculous thoughts for films, but few of us ever follow through on them. Not only did filmmaker Nathan Smithe follow through, but he made a 90-minute epic of pure uninhibited insanity. The DVD is packed with extras, including a director’s commentary to end all director’s commentaries. It costs only $13 and it’s guaranteed to be a hit at your next party, especially if you follow the warning on the front cover (“Do Not Watch Sober”). This in-depth REVIEW at DVD TALK does an admirable job of trying to make some sense of the film.

Visual Culture recently released their first dvd, VISUAL STORYTELLING, which is a training video about how to tell stories in animation. I haven’t had time to watch the entire program yet, so I’m not in a position to offer a detailed assessment, but skimming through it, the program seems like a solid and concise, no-frills approach to teaching a commonly neglected aspect of animated filmmaking. If you want to improve your storytelling skills, this might be a good place to start.

Exploring Reykjavik

Thursday, July 15, 2004
_________________________

I pop out of bed like a piece of toast, slightly jet-lagged but so excited by the idea of being in Iceland that it doesn’t matter that I’ve only gotten about four hours of sleep. It’s 5:00 AM and the sun is up (the sun is ALWAYS up here – - I’ve gotta get used to that!). After a low-pressure shower of scalding hot water that smells like a beer fart I decide to take a walk and see just where the hell I’ve landed. Since I’m terrified of getting lost in a strange city I take pictures of every corner’s impenetrable street sign with my trusty digital camera.

The city is silent. I share the morning with chirping birds and an occasional stray cat. A block away from my flat I pass an ancient graveyard, moss-covered and doubtless filled with all kinds of Viking zombies.

As I cross a bridge over a giant pond that spans the city, a talking goose tells me where to go. Since the locals always know where the best places are, I take the bird’s advice.

The winding streets remind me of something out of Disneyland, but with way more seedy-looking bars. The quantity of guzzle shops hints at a promising nightlife. The 17 different versions of “Harlem Nocturne” that I downloaded from iTunes make a perfect soundtrack as I approach the phallic dirgefactory. It’s a pretty impressive structure, but for some reason it makes me miss my wife. I pass a company clown-car and figure it’s time to head to work.

I manage to find my way back home in time for Oddur (The Coolest Man In Iceland) to drive me to the studio for my first full day at LazyTown. I can’t wait to get a name badge and my first assignment!

SHARK TALE STEREOTYPES

Dreamworks is getting flak over the use of Italian American stereotypes in its new movie, SHARK TALE. While DreamWorks maintains that the movie is a comedy and that its (stereotyped) villains become “heroes”, the Columbus Citizens Foundation is taking the argument public with this response to Dreamworks claims.My question: Is anyone gonna complain about Will Smith’s character?SHARK TALE opens Oct. 1st.

CAL ARTS TRIBUTE AT MOMA

The Museum Of Modern Art in New York is planning a big film-and-video tribute to CalArts that will take place in late 2005/early 2006. The program will highlight the School’s illustrious animation history (it will include student works only, not those of faculty or post graduates). This historical survey will feature films and videos produced by the following departments: Film and Video, Experimental Animation, Character Animation, and Film Directing. Also included are films and videos produced in the MFA program.Current students and alumni are invited to submit their films and videos for consideration. Please send these, along with a CV and any descriptive materials, to:Josh Siegel
Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019Film prints will be returned. Videocassettes, unless they are unique, will not. The curator of the exhibition, Josh Siegel, also welcomes any suggestions about CalArts graduates and where they might be contacted. Please email him at [email protected].

More on Duane Crowther

Oscar Grillo writes this nice memory of how he was inspired by Duane Crowther’s work:

Duane was not only a great animator. He was a great guy… he was my mentor. Aged sixteen I started to work in animation in Buenos Aires. I played a practical joke (I removed the boss’s chair when he was about to sit and he fell on his ass…I was an idiot) and I was fired. I knew I blew my chances to work in animation for the rest of my life. I begged some people in another studio to let me stay with them for no pay. They had a showreel from an American studio named Robert Lawrence Animation. It was terrific…I looked at it frame by frame in the moviola and checked out some of their tricks and techniques. Suddenly I felt that I understood the mysteries of animation and design and I tried to put it into practice. The boss I had played the stupid trick on came to visit the studio and saw the work I was doing then and rehired me on the spot and I started to earn my living as an animator.

Many years later I visited Duck Soup in Santa Monica and through Lee Mishkin I met Duane. He invited me to a great lunch at Musso & Frank and asked me what got me started. I mentioned the Robert Lawrence showreel and he said “What commercials did they have on it?” I said “This and that,” and he said “I made them” so I discovered who was my inspiration and made me do it. God bless Duane, I miss his censoriousness and pessimistic views, but compared with what passes for optimism today he was a genuine and true optimist!

BLUM BLUM

Every so often I see a piece of animation that completely knocks me out, a gem that I never even knew existed. This past weekend I saw such a film: BLUM BLUM. The 3-minute black-&-white short was a student film produced by Duane Crowther in 1949 while he was attending UCLA. Duane was born in December 1928 so he would have been only twenty years old when he made the film. An experienced animator would be proud to have his name on this film, so it boggles the mind that such a mature work was created by somebody who had never animated before. To put it into some sort of perspective, I don’t think that in all the years I’ve attended the CalArts year-end screenings, I’ve ever seen a piece of student animation that exhibits such an innate sense of timing and overall understanding of the animated form.

BLUM BLUM is difficult to describe in words and must be seen to be truly appreciated. It is set to a rather goofy novelty tune by Peggy Lee and seamlessly jumps back and forth between abstract shape animation and character animation. All sorts of innovative UPA-ish modernity are on display throughout the film such as animating a character’s line and shape separately and having a round character flatten out when he turns to the side. When Duane made the film though, UPA had only released a couple Fox and Crow theatricals so his modernist influences must have come from elsewhere. Not surprisingly he started working at UPA-LA shortly after he finished this film. In Gene Deitch’s on-line autobiography, he recalls how Duane was transferred to UPA’s New York studio:

Ted Bethune, the background painter, was a Canadian, and wanted to go home. That presented us with our first crisis, and I got on the phone several times with Steve [Bosustow], imploring him to send me a replacement. Orders were coming in, and we didn’t have a background artist. As my desperation mounted, Steve put his hand over the mouthpiece, but I could still hear him ask someone, “Can you paint backgrounds?”

“Uh-oh,” I thought. “What are we going to get?” Shortly, a handsome 20-year-old with bright black eyes showed up. He painted the worst backgrounds I had seen up to that time. “What else can you do?” I asked plaintively. I could not throw back a fellow Steve sent me.

“I have this reel I animated when I was 18,” he said. I led him into the projection room with no real hope. The animation was sensational. Here was a natural born animator! He became my star. He was Duane Crowther.

The reel that Gene is referring to is, of course, the film BLUM BLUM. It is a testament to Duane’s talent that he became one of two main animators at UPA-NY, the other animator being none other than the great Grim Natwick. Fred Crippen, who’ll be honored at the Ottawa Animation Festival next week, was given his animation training by Duane at UPA-NY and was his assistant animator for a couple years. Even though Fred hasn’t seen BLUM BLUM in nearly fifty years, he still distinctly recalls it as being a terrific film.

After working in New York for most of the Fifties, Crowther returned to LA where he worked on TV commercials for Filmfair, Quartet and Jay Ward Productions among other studios. In the late-’60s, he went to England to work on THE YELLOW SUBMARINE where he animated sequences with the Blue Meanies. In the Seventies, Duane established the commercial studio Duck Soup Productions with Roger Chouinard. He passed away in 1998.

Animator Mark Kausler who kindly showed me BLUM BLUM, and likely has the only copy of the film in existence, also worked with Duane for many years. At some point, I’ll have to bug him for more details about Duane’s work. He told me that after this student effort, Duane never made another personal film. Then again, when somebody achieves perfection on their first attempt, what’s the point of trying again?

Unidentifed Flying Kimball

Ward Kimball is the only animator I can ever imagine being caught up in this sort of stuff. This ARTICLE recounts Ward’s involvement with secret unreleased government footage of UFOs. Most intriguing, the piece says that in 1979 Ward publicly screened 15-20 minutes of animation from an unfinished Disney documentary about UFOs. Does this footage still exist? I’d love to see it.

THE JACKALOPE BOYZ

jackalope.jpgWarner Bros. animation director Mike Milo (Xiaolin Showdown) has a new flash animation:

Sorry for this shameless self-promotion but I am part of a contest run by a Warner Bros’ website called Cartoon Monsoon. It’s a series of cartoons made entirely in Flash and each week they premiere a new cartoon. Well this week it’s MY cartoon “The Jackalope Boyz”! I’ve been in the biz for 15 years and I’ve had 7 projects go through development at WB, H+B, Cartoon Network and Universal and of course you have no idea who I am, so obviously none were ever green lit. Anyway I’m looking to stir up votes for my cartoon and it would only take three minutes out of your schedule.

You can check out Mike’s cartoon HERE. Also read Mike’s blog.

Good Luck Mike.

SONY-MGM?

I’ve been following the on-going bidding war for the MGM studio (or as I like to call it “MGM/UA”). Time Warner (aka Warner Bros.) was close to acquiring the studio (and its library which includes the DePatie-Freleng Pink Panther cartoons, and the AIP/Orion library which includes FRITZ THE CAT, HEAVY TRAFFIC, ALAKAZAM THE GREAT, PRINCE PLANET, THE WORLD OF HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, JACK & THE WITCH, etc.)This morning Time-Warner withdrew it’s offer, and has left it to Sony (with it’s under ultilized Screen Gems/UPA classic cartoon library) to pick up the pieces.As I am currently writing a PINK PANTHER Ultimate Visual Guide for DK Publishing, all of this interests me. There are pros and cons to each of these studios acquiring the MGM holdings. If Warners picked it up, dvd sets of the cartoon library would probably make their way to the public rather quickly. Sony on the other hand, has no idea what to do with animated cartoons – nor classic feature films – based on what I’ve seen of the films they’ve already released (and not released) on dvd.
May the best media conglomorate (and cartoon fans) win.

Independent Japanese Animation

Last month I sung the praises of Benjamin Ettinger’s anime blog AniPages Daily, but it’s worth doing again. During the past couple weeks, he’s posted an excellent beginner’s guide to the history of independent animation in Japan and it’s fascinating reading. I’ve managed to see a handful of the films he writes about including Tezuka’s TALES OF A STREETCORNER (thanks Mark), a retrospective of Taku Furukawa’s work at Ottawa ’02, a couple of Yoji Kuri’s films, and assorted bits here and there, but to be honest, until I read Ben’s pieces I had no idea how all these artists and films related to one another in the context of Japan’s indie animation scene. The story begins in this ENTRY, continues HERE and ends with this POST. If only every blog was this informative and entertaining. And while on the subject of Japanese animation, here’s a nice page that has a listing of all of Osamu Tezuka’s independent films complete with stills and clips. I’d really like to see PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION one of these days.

GO BEHIND THE SCENES AT PIXAR

The Second Annual Benefit for the Cartoon Art Museum will be held Saturday, October 2nd at Pixar. Pixar Animation Studios will host the second annual benefit at 6pm with a special evening on the Emeryville campus.

Over wine and hors d’oeuvres you will see a stunning gallery exhibition featuring the pre-production artwork for the Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Pixar Animation Studios film, The Incredibles, opening November 5, 2004. Guests will then be escorted into Pixar’s state-of-the-art 240 seat theater to hear the artists and wizards behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles share their unique perspectives on the movie-making process. After the presentation, guests will have an opportunity to converse with the speakers and other Pixarians.
Special guest speakers ewill include: Gary Rydstrom, sound designer; Andrew Stanton, writer/director, Finding Nemo; Mark Andrews, Head of Story, The Incredibles; Angus MacLane, animator; and Dr. Michael B. Johnson, Pixar R&D.This event will sell out quickly and there are only a limited number of seats available. Cartoon Art Museum members can purchase tickets for the reduced rate of $125, while the non-member rate is $175. Tickets will not be sold at the door.

More information is posted at www.cartoonart.orgCartoon Art Museum
655 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
phone: (415) CAR-TOON

More George W. Films

New Yorkers can see BUSHWHACKED!, another Bush-related film festival, this weekend at the 8th annual RESFEST. Here is a description of the show:

A special program for this election year of great viral political films from media jammers (The Yes Men, Bryan Boyce, Michael Moore) around the world, includes some world premieres like Pinocchio (image shown here) which was too hot for MoveOn.org, and a “Schoolhouse Rock”-style animation from Eric Henry, Pirates & Emperors (Or Size Does Matter).

(via Boing Boing)

Flash for Animators

Eddie Mort and Lili Chin REPORT on their blog that Macromedia is developing a new version of Flash geared towards animators and designers. Mike Downey of Macromedia emailed them this note: “I’m happy to tell you that we’re in the early stages of defining the next version of Flash, code-named ’8ball’, and will be focusing the release on animators, multimedia designers, and digital artists… The next product release is being managed by an entirely new team of long-time Flash and graphics experts (unlike the last release) and we are all super-determined to return Flash to its roots and make it much better for designers and animators. We may not be able to do everything within the next release, but we definitely have Flash back on track for the future.” If you’re a Flash animator, feel free to contribute to the COMMENTS section of Eddie and Lili’s blog and tell Macromedia what features you’d like to see incorporated into the udpated Flash.

Dubya Animation Fest

Hargrove Entertainment is currently soliciting films for the GW Bush Animation Festival. The selected shorts will be screened theatrically this fall as well as released onto DVD. According to the organizers: “It doesn’t matter if you’re pro-Bush or anti-Bush, we want to see your work. Toons will be chosen based on the quality of the work, not the political affiliation of the animator.” VHS and DVD screeners can be submitted to:
GW Bush Animation Festival
c/o Hargrove Entertainment Inc.
PO Box 750338
Forest Hills, NY 11375-0338

FRANK THOMAS (1912-2004)

Frank Thomas, the second-to-last surviving member of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” group of supervising animators, passed away on September 8, three days after his ninety-second birthday.The following is excerpted from the official Disney announcement:

frankthomas.jpgFrank Thomas, one of the most talented, inventive and influential animators in the history of the art form, a member of Walt Disney’s elite “Nine Old Men,” and a pioneering animator who worked on many classic shorts and features during his 43-year career at the Disney Studios, passed away on Wednesday (9/8) at his home in Flintridge, California. He was 92 years old. Thomas had been in declining health following a cerebral hemorrhage earlier this year.In addition to his achievements as an animator and directing animator, Thomas (in collaboration with his lifelong friend and colleague Ollie Johnston) authored four landmark books: Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, Too Funny for Words, Bambi: The Story and the Film, and The Disney Villain. Thomas and Johnston were also the title subjects of a heartfelt 1995 feature-length documentary entitled “Frank and Ollie,” written and directed by Frank’s son, Theodore (Ted) Thomas.In a career filled with milestones, Thomas’ remarkable animation included such indelible moments as the first date and spaghetti dinner in “Lady and the Tramp,” Thumper teaching Bambi how to ice-skate, Baloo the bear telling the man-cub Mowgli that he can’t stay in the jungle in “The Jungle Book,” Pinocchio trapped in the birdcage by the evil puppeteer Stromboli, the lovesick squirrel whose heart is broken in “Sword in the Stone,” Captain Hook playing the piano in “Peter Pan,” the dancing penguins in “Mary Poppins,” among others. He also animated several of Mickey Mouse’s most impressive scenes in such films as “The Pointer,” and “Brave Little Tailor.” Noted animation historian/author/filmmaker John Canemaker, described Thomas’ special talents in his book, Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men. “Thomas is particularly known and admired for his ability to animate emotionally sensitive material; the saddest scenes, the most romantic, most deeply felt sequences, the sincerest heart-tuggers usually found their way to his drawing board.” John Lasseter (head of creative for Pixar Animation Studios and director of the “Toy Story” films and “A Bug’s Life”) said, “Frank was a giant in our field and he meant everything to me and to all of us who love the art of animation. Besides being one of the key guys to help elevate animation from a novelty to an incredible art form, he was so generous in passing along his knowledge and experiences to the generations that followed. The books that he wrote with Ollie had a big impact on so many of us working in animation today. Frank was one of my main mentors and a tremendous influence on me. I feel very privileged to have known him.” Leonard Maltin, animation historian, film critic, and author, observed, “Frank helped to invent animation as an art form and took it to incredible new heights through his work at Disney over four and a half decades. He and his lifelong friend and colleague, Ollie Johnston, had a remarkable gift for explaining and articulating how they did what they did. That’s a rare quality in an artist. Even in his nineties, Frank retained a youthful spirit and indomitable sense of humor.”illusion.jpgThomas retired from animation in January, 1978. Over the next five years, Thomas and Johnston devoted full time to researching and writing the definitive book on their craft, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life. The book distilled forty years of knowledge and experience into what many consider the finest book ever written about animation. Too Funny for Words was published six years later and explored the gags, humor and story elements that went into the features and shorts. Walt Disney’s Bambi: The Story and the Film (1990) told the behind the scenes story of the creation of one of the greatest animated films of all-time. Their final collaboration, The Disney Villain (1993), explored the richest and most colorful rogue’s gallery in film history.In addition to his career as a top animator, Thomas also expressed his musical talents as the piano player in the popular jazz group, The Firehouse Five Plus Two. Formed in 1940s, the group consisted of other Disney employees, and achieved success with their numerous Dixieland jazz recordings and personal appearances. They officially disbanded in 1971. In 1995, Thomas was the subject of a feature length documentary, “Frank and Ollie,” released by Walt Disney Pictures. Written, produced, and directed by Frank’s son, Theodore (Ted) Thomas, and produced by Ted’s wife, Kuniko Okubo, the film played film festivals around the world and received acclaim for its insightful look at the lives, careers and extraordinary friendship of the two legendary animators.No funeral is planned but details regarding a life celebration will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made in Frank’s name to the Character Animation Program at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) in Santa Clarita, California.

CARTOON SNACK BREAK

popeye snackI’m still hungover from two mind-blowing nights of classic cartoons with John K. at the Egyptian theatre. So while I recover, here’s an unrelated guest report from Brew reader Chris Sobieniak:

A couple days ago, I went off to mail some videos at the post office, afterwards, I decided to check out the Korean import mart close by to see what goodies they got this time, and I found a couple things of interest you might like to see…First off, is a package with a familiar figure on it, Popeye, pimping for Samyang Food’s own “Star Popeye Snack”! Though a typical non-spinich gig for our one-eyed sailor, he still gets to show it in his hand anyway (though the packaging mmicks a rather uncanny look of generic soda cups from the drive-in). More info on this (though in Korean) can be accessed hereastrosnack.jpgAnd finally, a package of the Korean version of Frito-Lay’s “Chee-tos” (notice I still use the hyphen), produced by Orion Frito-Lay (a joint venture between a Korean confectionary and PepsiCo supposibly). Oddly, this version of Chee-tos isn’t the cheesy type we’ve come to know and love in the US, but now is barbacue flavored! Somehow I couldn’t get halfway through the bag before I threw the rest away (just don’t have a taste for it). Featured on the front of the package is none other than the recently released (and horridly adapted) “Astro Boy” character, with a freebie surprise inside (you don’t expect that anymore)! Not really a nifty item, looks to be some kind of spinner, though I kept thinking of it as the milkcap or “pogs” of a decade ago.

Creativity: MacFarlane Style

Artist/creator Seth MacFarlane speaking about the difficulty of creating new episodes of FAMILY GUY:

“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! We used up all the funny lines last week! What are we going to do?’ But that’s good. It pushes me to do better work.”

Poor guy. Now with the simultaneous production of FAMILY GUY and AMERICAN DAD, he must be running out of funny lines twice as fast.

CLASSIC CARTOONS

Very busy time for me this week.I’m hosting the John K. Classic Cartoon night, tonight, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Don’t miss your last chance to see the 35mm restored POPEYE MEETS SINDBAD print everyone (especially me) is raving about – also 35mm prints of THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY (Daffy Duck), SOLID IVORY (Woody Woodpecker), BLIND DATE (Heckle & Jeckle, Jim Tyer), MINNIE’S YOO HOO (Mickey Mouse), and many others, with live commentary by John K. (and sometimes me). Don’t miss it – it starts at 8pm!janet.jpgThursday night I’m the opening act, showing several musical shorts (and cartoons) at the Steve Allen Theatre in Los Feliz. This is an event for Janet Klein and her Parlour Boys who are having a CD release party at 8pm. Janet sings and plays 1920s jazz – she’s got quite a cult following in both Los Angeles and Japan. Her new album is called Living In Sin – and I recommend it (the album, that is). Check out her nifty website.

Why Jaime Hates Family Guy

Jaime J. Weinman is a fine writer who discusses cartoons intelligently on his blog Something Old, Nothing New alongside a variety of thoughtful posts about live-action sitcoms, musical theater and other avenues of American pop culture. I don’t always agree with him, especially when he sings the praises of witless Spielberg product like ANIMANIACS and PINKY & THE BRAIN, but he really hits the mark in one of his recent posts – “Why I Hate FAMILY GUY” – in which he offers ten well-reasoned arguments why Seth MacFarlane’s show is an abominable example of modern TV animation. Weinman however doesn’t mention the reward for such utter incompetence: a greenlight for Seth’s second Fox series, the currently in-production AMERICAN DAD. On to a less painful topic, be sure to read Jaime’s recent entry about Friz Freleng’s WB short LUMBER JERKS and why it was a better environmentally-themed cartoon than all the CAPTAIN PLANET episodes combined.