I’m off to the Ottawa Animation Festival, which starts this evening (it’s going to be a mighty long day). There’s an amazing line-up of programs scheduled for this year and I’m sure it’ll be an excellent time. I’m especially excited because I’m hosting the Fred Crippen retrospective which will be showing on Thursday and Sunday. Fred is an amazing animator and director, and he’s done it all over the course of the past fifty years from UPA and SESAME STREET to ROGER RAMJET and adult cartoons for HBO and The Playboy Channel. He even has a brand-new film, IMPROVING COMMUNICATIONS, premiering in Competition #1 and it’s a real hoot. I’m also moderating a “Meet the Master” session with Fred on Saturday afternoon and will be speaking on the panel “Your Criticism Sucks!” alongside Chris “Animation Pimp” Robinson, Richard O’Connor, Mikhail Gurevich and ANIMATION MAGAZINE’s Rita Street. There’s going to be fireworks at this one folks…at least I’m hoping so. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be blogging from Ottawa or doing a wrap-up report after the festival, but if the parties are anything like Annecy and Zagreb, don’t expect to hear from me until after the fest. If you see me up there, give me a shout. Here’s what I look like.
Fascinating article (and delightfully grotesque editorial art) in the EAST BAY EXPRESS about Pixar’s continuing battles with the city of Emeryville as they attempt to expand the size of their studio. The piece reports that there’s now a measure opposing Pixar’s architectural plans on the November Emeryville ballot. Regardless of the studio’s expansion woes, after seeing this new INCREDIBLES trailer, I can assuredly say that Pixar has created the best American animated feature of 2004. Granted, when your competition is SHARK TALE and HOME ON THE RANGE, that’s not saying much, but Brad Bird’s latest looks truly sumptuous and certainly one of the most entertaining animated features in years.
(Thanks to Karl Cohen for the article link.)
Appealing graffiti art HERE. Fafi is a French artist who specializes in drawing cute girls. Her work reminds me a bit of Katie Nice and Junko Mizuno, and for the most part is solidly drawn with creative flourish to spare. Fafi will be having a gallery show in LA at four x four opening on Friday, November 12. (link via Jared Chapman)
Illustrator Mark Frauenfelder’s recent post on Boing Boing about the forthcoming Jim Flora book is a reminder of what a wonderful time it is for aficionados of mid-century cartooning and animation. In the past couple years, there have been books dedicated to the work of Flora, Gene Deitch and Mary Blair, and there’s still more to come. I’ve heard that a Maurice Noble coffeetable book is in the pipeline, and I’m personally working on a comprehensive volume about Fifties animation design which will be published by Chronicle Books in 2006.
This must be the golden age of cheap public domain cartoon dvds. ILM animation director Tom Bertino sent in this toon tip:
Your posting of the 99-cent TOM & JERRY DVD made me think I should tip you off to something, if you don’t know about it already. There is a 12-disc box on the market with the woefully generic title “100 CARTOON CLASSICS“. All PD stuff, and while the usual suspects are there (yet another repackaging of POPEYE FOR PRESIDENT) and there’s a lot of odd as well (some of the most off-brand TV stuff imaginable), there are some really wonderful oddities lurking within. One whole disc (coincidence?) is devoted to Van Beuren T&Js, and scattered around are a number of VB Aesop’s Fables… DIXIE DAYS, RED RIDING HOOD, things like that. There are also a few Ted Eshbaugh indies, including GOOFY GOAT ANTICS. There’s even a Toby The Pup in there, for God’s sake! I paid something like $26.00 for it at my local Borders, and felt like I sure got my money’s worth.
A few years ago I was invited to be a judge for the animation sidebar to the SITGES FANTASY FILM FESTIVAL in Spain. Animator Carolina Lopez ran an excellent mini animation festival there, which she dubbed Animac. Now the mini-fest has turned into it’s own event run by Isabel Herguera. I’ve just recieved a very well designed entry form for ANIMAC ’05 which will be held on February 24th through the 27th, 2005, in Lleida (Catalonia – Spain). Filmmakers wanting to have their films shown there have until Nov. 30th to enter their work. Visit their nifty Flash-enhanced website for more details.
Milt Gross’s graphic novel HE DONE HER WRONG (1930) is examined in this ARTICLE at Indy Magazine. Somebody really needs to publish a good bio/art book documenting the vastly underrated work of Gross. For the time being, Shane Glines is posting a lot of Gross’s finest cartooning on his subscription site CartoonRetro.com.
Thursday, July 15, 2004 (Part II)
I arrive at the studio, where I’m issued an electronic badge with my picture on it. This will open locked doors and help the crew identify the New Guy, but how the hell am I supposed to learn a hundred new names, many of them with umlauts and ligatures and accents? The Ö’s and Æ’s and ß’s are daunting to my fevered, jet-lagged brain, but fortunately I brought many high-tech recording devices with me from America. I set my trusty digital camera to “video” and greet every new face with a cheerful, “Hi! Can you tell me your name and how to spell it?” This breaks the ice, gives me some great audio and visual reference, and pegs me as a weirdo immediately.
After an intense day of writing, Mark Zaslove and I go out for a bite. Man, the chow is yummy here, and the coffee is the best I’ve ever tasted. I drink approximately one million cups of it a day. On the way back from the restaurant we pass a club called Sirkus, where a mob has gathered hoping to catch a glimpse of the Tom Selleck Competition. I make a note to check the place out later. Right now I’m beat.
I stumble home and get in bed, writing about pirates until I fall asleep with my computer on my chest. As I drift off the voices of invisible women whisper trivialities in my ears, jarring me awake. What in the world is going on inside my head? Or are the voices coming from outside my head? Am I going nuts? Probably.
Oh, well. Beautiful day for it.
Good night to all,
Ken Pontac, Iceland
My buddy Arnold Leibovit (The Puppetoon Movie) has a nice website called Sci-Fi Station which is dedicated to the great fantasy filmmakers of the past: Walt Disney, George Pal, Ray Harryhausen and others. Arnie just uploaded images from a batch of vintage Disney cels for sale – great ones – consigned to him from several private collections. If classic Disney art is your thing, take a look. At these prices, I’ll be content just to window shop (or the internet equivalent of that term) — but what a nice group of images.
Rivaling Fleischer studios with their abstract rubber-hose animation style and hot jazz musical scores, the RKO Van Beuren Tom & Jerry cartoons (1931-1933) have become classics for their sheer surrealism. Currently in distribution at 99 Cents Only Stores is one of the greatest bargains I’ve ever seen: a dvd of nine Van Beuren TOM & JERRY cartoons! That’s 11 cents per cartoon! And if that’s not enough for you, it comes with a free 10 minute phone card inside the package!! (Thanks to Larry Loc for providing one for the Brew archives)And the dvd works – and the print quality isn’t too bad. They look like 16mm transfers – and most have the original Tom & Jerry title cards. The packaging is a cheap cardboard “envelope” that has been shrink wrapped. This dvd says it’s volume 1 – has anyone out there found volume two? If so, what titles are on it?The company putting these out is called Television Classics in Solona Beach, CA – and they’ve stocked the 99 Cent Only stores with dozens of similiarly packaged PD dvd collections – including Ozzie & Harriet, Dick Van Dyke, Burns & Allen, Make Room For Daddy and Lone Ranger television episodes, not to mention a dozen movie titles, and as I said, the quality is pretty good. Heck, they’re only 99 cents!Next Saturday afternoon, Mark Kausler and I are hosting an Asifa Hollywood screening of classic Van Beuren TOM & JERRY cartoons at the AFI in Hollywood. We will show many rare titles not on these cheap dvds, including Wot A Night (the first in the series), Trouble, Joint Wipers, Tuba Tooter, Jolly Fish, Barnyard Bunk Tight Rope Tricks, Happy Hoboes, Puzzled Pals, and The Phantom Rocket (The last in the series). Join us on September 25th at 3pm and see what all the fuss is about.
Gary Owens, the voice of Roger Ramjet, Space Ghost and Powdered Toast Man, has a new book out called HOW TO MAKE A MILLION DOLLARS WITH YOUR VOICE (OR LOSE YOUR TONSILS TRYING). While mostly a how-to on becoming a voice-over artist, the book also includes anecdotes from Owens’ legendary career in film, TV and radio. Scott Shaw! points out on Animation Nation that next Wednesday, September 22, Gary will be doing a signing of his new book from 7-9 pm at Dutton’s Bookstore in North Hollywood (5146 Laurel Canyon Blvd.). And Scott hints that some of Gary’s friends with last names like Freberg, Winters and Conway may show up for the signing. I’d certainly be there if I wasn’t going to Ottawa.
Here’s an ARTICLE from Frank Thomas’s hometown paper, the LA CANADA VALLEY SUN, with remembrances from Disney folk like Andreas Deja, Andy Gaskill and Howard Green. Not an essential read, but worth a look for Thomas fans.
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)
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.
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!