INCREDIBLE!

mrincredible.jpgSaw THE INCREDIBLES tonight. The last time I felt this good was after seeing THE IRON GIANT.Brad Bird taps into my inner geek like no one else. I loved the film, which – along with the recent X-MEN movies, the Raimi SPIDER-MAN films, the 1941 CAPTAIN MARVEL serial and Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons – ranks with the best superhero movies ever made. If you are a Pixar fan or a comic book freak; if you loved THE IRON GIANT, love superheroes, CG movies, great art direction, amazing visuals, action films, personal dramas, family films, and great fillmmaking… you will love THE INCREDIBLES. From it’s grainy 16mm newsreel opening to its 2-D stylized end title crawl – it’s a blast. It blows away those Soprano sharks and patriotic puppets. Pixar is six for six. Yay!

Cartoon Edukasion

This 3-hour Windows Media lecture by character designer Chen Yi-Chang (MULAN, TARZAN, ATLANTIS) contains a lot of solid insights. Also, here’s a couple articles worth reading: a 1975 interview with Ken Harris conducted by Richard Williams (posted on the promising new blog SewardStreet.com) and this 1990 interview with Mark Kausler conducted by John Cawley for his book HOW TO CREATE ANIMATION.

Karl Cohen On THE INCREDIBLES

Animation historian and ASIFA-San Francisco prez Karl Cohen saw THE INCREDIBLES yesterday. Here’s what he thinks of it:

Brad Bird is just about to be recognized as one of America’s greatest feature directors. The last time I had so much fun seeing a feature for the first time was when I saw the original STAR WARS. Pixar’s THE INCREDIBLES is that good. I was grinning from ear to ear most of the time and was on the edge of my seat half the time. It is full of action, adventure, delightful twists and turn, amazing inventions, great surprises, etc. Never a dull moment is an understatement. It combines the best elements of fun from films that range from James Bond to Spider-Man. It combines those elements into a new entertainment package that is simply incredible. Pixar’s animation seems flawless, the voice actors are exceptional, the actors can really convey a full range of emotions, the background art is stunning – in short a film this great only comes along once every decade or two.

LOONEY TUNES VOLUME 2

gclt1.jpgI saw a check disc a few weeks ago, but tonight I got a physical copy of the finished product in my hot little hands. The LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 2 is (in my humble opinion) even better than the first volume released last year. Better cartoons, fantastic restorations, great sound, improved packaging, and amazing bonus materials.Obviously I’m a bit biased. I was a consulting producer on the project, contributed to several on-screen sound bites and audio track commentaries. You can read about the contents elsewhere – I’ll just tell you I’m proud of this beautiful product. Is it perfect? No. The package artwork could be better, the menu graphics are… well, ugly, and I made a small boo-boo in one of my commentaries (I refer to My Dream Is Yours at one point on my commentary for YOU OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES, but say Two Guys From Texas instead – my bad). There is also a reference on the packaging to disc 4 containing SINKIN’ IN THE BATHTUB. This was an error. SINKIN’ will appear on a future volume (though fans of earlier black & white Looney Tunes will be happy with numerous clips from Foxy, Buddy and Beans cartoons sprinkled in the various bonus documentaries – heck, there’s even a few “incorrect” clips from TIN PAN ALLEY CATS placed on the docs, for good measure).The new short, DAFFY DUCK FOR PRESIDENT is a real surprise! It’s funny, well made, and… educational! Fits right in the dvd along side OLD GLORY and SO MUCH FOR SO LITTLE.LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 2 will live up to your high expectations. “Thank you’s” for making this dvd set a reality should go to George Feltenstein, who oversaw the project for Warner Home Video; Constantine Nasr and his team at New Wave Entertainment for putting the bonus documentaries together with such care; Rick Gehr, the unsung hero behind the restoration process; and all the experts who lent their time and knowledge to making this set teriffic: Michael Barrier, Greg Ford, John Kricfalusi, Milt Gray, Mark Kausler, Daniel Goldmark, Keith Scott, Ruth Clampett, Stan Freberg, June Foray, Leonard Maltin, Willie Ito, Bill Melendez, Corny Cole and many others I’m forgetting at the moment.No matter what happens on Election Day, this dvd is guaranteed to make you feel better. Buy it!

THANK GOD FOR PIXAR

From the current issue of TIME Magazine:

“Brad and I were in the first year of the character-animation program,” recalls Lasseter, “and we bonded with our love of cartoons. At that time animation was thought of as something just for children. But Brad and I believed animation was for everybody. That’s the way Walt Disney made his films. That’s the way Chuck Jones made his cartoons.”

Read the whole piece by Richard Corliss here.

Alfred J. Kwak

I had the pleasure of meeting Harald Siepermann at Annecy earlier this year. He’s another one of those incredible animation talents whose work is instantly familiar though his name may not be. In recent years, he’s contributed character designs to many Disney features including BROTHER BEAR, MULAN, TREASURE PLANET and TARZAN. Here’s a few of his designs from the latter film:

He’s also one of the co-creators of a popular European comic/animation character named Alfred J. Kwak. The Kwak comics and animated series never made it into the US so I was rather unaware of what it was all about when I first met him. A British friend at Annecy however was duly impressed to meet Siepermann at the festival and tells me that the show is one of the most intelligent and well-produced children’s animated series he’s ever seen.

So when Harald emailed recently to tell me about the newly released Alfred J. Kwak illustrated book, I asked if he could send over a short bit about the character’s history that I could share with Brew readers like myself who may not be familiar with the character. I’ll let Harald tell you the story…

Alfred J. Kwak, the main character of the book, was born as a stage character for a UNICEF children’s musical that Herman van Veen, a popular Dutch entertainer/singer, was asked to create in the early-Eighties. He was not visualised; Herman was doing all the voices and characters by himself, very Danny Kaye-like. After making Herman’s acquaintance backstage one day , I started to do comic strips with the duck, funny enough in collaboration with Hans Bacher [production designer, MULAN].

We were approached by a producer to work on a concept for a 52-part TV-series. The series was produced in Japan, directed by Saito-San, who also was the director of the legendary KIMBA THE WHITE LION. It premiered worldwide (excluding the US) in 1990 and won numerous prizes, mostly because we kept the socio-critical theme of the stageshows. We had episodes about apartheid, whaling, greenhouse-effects and lots of other issues, even about the Third Reich (Hitler was a crow in our show).

This new book, ABGEMACHT IST ABGEMACHT, which in English might be called A DEAL IS A DEAL, deals with the rights for children, ratified by the United Nations fifteen years ago, and plays against the backdrop of a war over oil. Similarities to recent events are absolutely intentional, though we never mention words like Iraq, Bush or Islam. Even if this all sounds very educational, 99% of everything connected to Alfred is purely fun and entertainment. Only if you look a bit deeper, will you see the issues.

The book is not available in the US, but can be picked up from Amazon-Germany.

Saturday Morning Stroll

Saturday, July 31, 2004
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Even though I’ve been here eighteen days (Christ, is that all? It seems like a lifetime), this Saturday was the first morning I felt like I was able to get out and watch the city wake up (they party until the morning, and stumble out of bed quite late). I took a walk and met a friendly drunk who staggered down the street as I was snapping a shot of a sign saying “Happiness is the way.” I met a loony street person who gave me a copy of her crazed manifesto, both in English and in Runic, which I plan to have translated.

I met a pair of loquacious drunks who told me to ignore the street person and listen to them.

I got a cup of coffee from another cute waitress, ate a strange sort of sandwich, and had a political conversation with a sharp Icelander who spoke in flawless English.

The studio is shut down for a “Dark Week” during which almost everybody will be on vacation, out of town, and recharging their batteries. We writers, on the other hand, will be in town working our butts off without the distracting interruptions of the production shattering our fragile concentration. It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to get a ton done while enjoying the scene in the city. I feel as if incredible adventures are about to happen. Or at least a lot of drinking.

Ken Pontac
Looking forward to it,
Iceland

A Little Abstraction

It’s not often that a trailer for an abstract/non-narrative animated short interests me enough to want to write about it, but the trailer for Oerd van Cuijlenborg’s upcoming short 8.1, set to Franz Schubert’s 8th symphony, looks pretty tantalizing. It’s a slick combination of FX animation (flames, snowflakes, birds, etc.) combined with pure abstract imagery. Van Cuijlenborg is a France-based animation artist who recently directed a short for Folimage called ZODIAC and also worked on their new feature LA PROPHETIE DES GRENOUILLES (RAINING CATS AND FROGS). His earlier abstract films have a similarly elegant sense of style and rhythm. You can see clips of his work and find out more about him HERE.

INCREDIBLES WRAP PARTY Reports

Here’s a few journal comments from various Pixarians who attended THE INCREDIBLES wrap party a couple weeks ago:

RotoMonkey.org: “The thing that struck me the most about the evening, aside from Sunday morning’s hangover, was how much joy and pride the entire company took in the film. There was genuine excitement from people who didn’t work on it for the people who did.

EnricoCasarosa.com: All of you out there, you don’t know what’s about to hit you. You can’t possibly imagine … X) I have to bite my lips … can’t say more.

James-Baker.com: I have been eagerly looking forward to seeing this movie ever since I saw the designs around 4 years ago (while at Pixar working on FINDING NEMO). I am happy to say that even though my expectations have steadily being rising over the past few years, THE INCREDIBLES didn’t disappoint on any level. The production design, character design, animation, and story are all fantastic. I haven’t enjoyed a movie so much in ages. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it breaks records at the box office.

And just for the hell of it, here’s a wrap party pic of director Bird with animators Victor Navone and Dave Mullins.

Reykjavik Gourmet

Thursday, July 29, 2004
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The alert reader will once again notice that six days have passed since my last entry. Time restraints now allow me to list only the highlights of my adventures. For instance:

I recently went to a sushi bar where I had a chance to eat whale, but I couldn’t bring myself to order it. I felt like I’d paid my indigenous food dues the day before by consuming half a sheep’s head brought to me by a smirking native eager to see if the new guy had the stones to sample the local cuisine. Boy, did he pick the wrong person to dare.

Frikki, the guy who brought me the sheep’s head, had picked it up at a drive-through where they sell the delicacy to busy Icelandic commuters hungry for a taste of face. By the time it reached me the noggin was cold and giving off an unpleasant muttony musk. The side dishes of potato and mashed yellow root thingie were room temperature as well. No matter. I had to geek the face or be pegged as a pussy for the rest of my stay. I channeled my inner caveman and grabbed a mouthful of cheek between my teeth, tearing it off to the appreciative murmurs of my barbaric audience. It tasted just like a cold lamb sandwich without the bread and mustard, except for the rubbery skin, which was similar to neoprene, but gamier. I ate some of the yellow root, but declined the eyeballs, offering them to Frikki instead. I was pleased when he passed on the peepers.

There’s a joint around the corner where they put you in a pen full of baby seals, thrust a club in your hand, and let you have at it (they gut the adorable corpses and cook ‘em for you). I might try that next, but fuck the club; I want to go after their furry asses barehanded.

Ken “Are You Going To Eat That?” Pontac
Top of the food chain and loving it,
Iceland

THE CANEMAKER COLLECTION

Attention – animation scholars, researchers, writers, students, and fans:Check out the revised Finder’s Guide for the John Canemaker Animation Collection, a valuable resource of historical material on animators and animation. The John Canemaker Animation Collection was founded in 1988 by animator and animation historian John Canemaker. It is housed in the Fales Library and Special Collections at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on the campus of New York University (70 Washington Square South in New York City).The large and unique collection includes audio tapes, audiovisual materials, rare books, drawings, flip books, monographs, periodicals, posters, press releases, and transcripts of Canemaker’s personal interviews with a multitude of animators (everyone from J.R. Bray to John Lasseter).

“Every time I complete a book or an article for the New York Times, I donate the research materials to my collection at Fales so other scholars and historians can use it for their projects,” Canemaker said. “For example, the new updated guide reflects materials I have donated over the last three years, including research data and interviews for my books on Mary Blair and Disney’s Nine Old Men and extensive files on the life and careers of Vladimir Tytla, Richard Williams, the Hubley’s and Chuck Jones, among others.”

The John Canemaker Animation Collection is available to scholars and students alike. To make an appointment:
Phone: (212) 998-2596
Fax: (212) 995-3835
Email: [email protected]

Notes from Iceland

Saturday, July 24, 2004
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After hastily scribbling an alibi I hook up with Mark and Cole to grab some brunch. We take the clown car to Café Paris for delicious waffles served by yet another blond goddess.

After our meal Mark and I are summoned to the studio to meet with Magnus. Weekends are meaningless in LazyTown; whenever we can get an audience with the boss we drop what we’re doing and grab our notepads (or in my case my iTalk). An hour later we’re at the studio for a crazy gabfest that lasts until late afternoon. Then it’s back to my apartment where a jazz band is playing to a crowd in the plaza beneath my balcony. I crack open a cold Viking and enjoy the sights and sounds. Y’know, I could get used to this.

I head over to a local dive to grab a bite and a beer while working on the notes from today’s meeting. At some point I call it a night and hit
the sack. Tomorrow’s a big day. I have a massage scheduled!

Goodnight and all that jazz,
Ken Pontac,
Iceland

Gumby Documentary Tomorrow

GUMBY DHARMA is a new documentary about Gumby creator Art Clokey. It’s directed by Robina Marchesi, with new animation by Tim Hittle, and includes interviews with Ray Harryhausen, Henry Selick and Hittle, among others. A rough cut/work-in-progress print will screen tomorrow afternoon at 3pm at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Details can be found HERE. According to ASIFA-San Francisco prez Karl Cohen, the film is not sugar-coated in the least and offers an insightful look into Clokey’s work and life. Says Cohen: “The film is about where his creativity comes from, but instead of this being a cute charming story about inspiration, it is a biography involving several deaths, a childhood interrupted by a broken marriage, a cruel stepfather, rejection and other non-Disney elements. There is much joy in it including Art living with a grandfather who provided him with a new lease on life. Art explains that Gumby is his vision of a world where he can safely celebrate life and that he and all of us can be Gumby. The Gumby episodes are his daydreams of a world he missed growing up.” If you’re unable to make the screening tomorrow, the film is eventually going to be released onto home video.

DREW CAREY’S GREEN SCREEN

greenscreen.jpgWe are overdue in mentioning Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show. It’s been on for two weeks now (Thursday nights at 8:30pm on The WB Network) and I’ve really enjoyed both episodes that have aired. In addition to the improv comedy provided by Drew and his talented crew, the animated embellishments from Ron Diamond’s ACME Filmworks are delightful, funny and visually arresting. This is a must-watch show for cartoon fans – the greatest collection of animated styles collected in a half hour since Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.That’s fitting as Prudence Fenton (of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Liquid Television, etc.) is producing the animation with Diamond – and they have assembled an incredible array of talent to back up the comics: Eric Goldberg, Bill Plympton, Scott Ingalls, Mark Cabellero & Shamus Walsh, Bill Kroyer, Chris Prynowski, Paul Vester, Janet Perlman, Marv Newland, John Dilworth and Cordell Barker (to name but a few).The animated bits are outstanding. You can never tell what style of animation is coming up next – cartoon cel, stop motion puppets, rotoscope, CG – and that’s part of the fun of watching the show. Each segment has merit – and the show on the whole is an outstanding achievement (especially considering the short schedules the animators had to work within). I highly recommend you check it out.

Just A couple of Oreb Drawings

Oreb drawing

I saw this drawing by Tom Oreb (character stylist on SLEEPING BEAUTY and TOOT, WHISTLE PLUNK & BOOM) for the first time yesterday. I’m not sure what it’s from, though it seems to be a design/layout drawing for the DICK TRACY TV series (1960) or a sketch from that era. For all its simplicity, the drawing works beautifully. It has personality, style and humor (the hands especially are funny), but more than anything, it’s just plain fun to look at. Oreb knew exactly where to add little hints of dimension, showing the underbrim of a hat and the inside of a character’s shirt, to give a sense of form to the otherwise flat designs. And below is a page of doodles by Oreb. Not quite as impressive, but still nice to see (click on the image for the full version).

Oreb drawing

Pixar and The Uncanny Valley

I stumbled across an interesting blog post over at RobotJohnny.com that again mentions the “Uncanny Valley” theory and how Brad Bird has overcome this obstacle with THE INCREDIBLES. This comment in his entry perfectly sums up my thoughts: “The moment I saw the trailer for THE INCREDIBLES, I knew that Pixar had done something that no 3D film had done yet – they had created human characters that had some style to them and that didn’t try to emulate life.”

Home, Sweet (Icelandic) Home

Friday, July 23, 2004
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The alert reader will notice that there was no description of yesterday’s events.

We will speak no more about it.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Stefan, teaching him how to talk like a pirate and swapping tall tales. He’s a really funny guy, and is becoming one of my pals in this production. We even dress alike, as the picture below illustrates.

Today’s a big day. I’m getting relocated from my temporary residence into my new “crib” (or “ágætur íbúd í the midja af the borg” as the kids in Iceland call it). It’s smack dab in the center of the city, and every time I show my gawking cohorts the address I receive gratifyingly raised eyebrows and “ahs” of envy. When the landlord asks me what my wife’s name is so he can put it on the mailbox “to make her feel that she has a home in Iceland when she visits” I almost weep.

Another important aspect of the day is the arrival of Cole Zaslove, Mark Zaslove’s kid and my little Oddchild. Cole is instantly smitten by Julianna, who he refers to as “the pink-haired girl.” I think she’s the first great love of his life (besides his mom, who’s also here), and it’s pretty damn adorable. I snap a picture of Cole and Julianna, an image that he will doubtlessly treasure forever.

Thorir tells me about a band that’s playing at a local guzzlery, but when I get there at 10pm the bar is practically empty and there’s no band. I spend some time (and WAY too much money) at a nearby strip club, and when I get back to the bar the joint’s jammed and the band is cranking. Thorir is nowhere to be seen, but that doesn’t stop me from ordering a Viking (the local brew) and listening to the REALLY LOUD music. I finish my beer and split, my ears ringing in Icelandic.

I weave through the streets as midnight approaches. The sun is visible on the horizon, and the sidewalks are crowded with people just getting ready to party. As I’m admiring a group of blond goddesses one of them smiles at me and breaks from the pack. It’s Gudrún, a seamstress from the show. She and I enter a nearby bar and chug suds and swap gossip for an hour. Gudrún, thanks for being my first Icelandic drinking buddy!

I stagger back to my new ágætur íbúð í the miðja af the borg and work on a LazyTown script in bed until I fall asleep with my computer heating my belly like a high-tech hot water bottle. Thank God this new place has blackout curtains. I just wish it had soundproof windows, because there’s a party right outside that ends up lasting until 5am.

Ken Pontac,
Pleasantly buzzed,
Iceland

Ren & Stimpy Uncut?

Apparently the new REN & STIMPY: THE COMPLETE FIRST & SECOND SEASONS — UNCUT are not exactly uncut. Though the edits seem relatively minor, it’s hardly a smart idea for Paramount Home Entertainment to release a DVD with “uncut” printed in big letters on the cover when there are obvious edits in numerous cartoons. I haven’t seen a complete list of cuts yet, but some of the them are mentioned in this message board post. Also here is a letter from John Kricfalusi explaining his side in the whole matter.

HOME MOVIES

box4.jpgLong before dvd discs and vhs tapes there were home movies – physical celluloid film in 16mm and 8mm widths on reels that you had to run through a portable home movie projector. And those films were sold in camera shops, department stores and through mail order companies. The boxes they were packaged in were, at times, attractive and today some of those boxes are worth more than the films themselves!I’ve posted a few vintage home movie boxes on various pages of my Original Titles website. You can also see a gallery of great ones at Harry McCracken’s Harry-Go-Round website. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Why CG Humans Are Creepy

It’s a little too late (or is that too early) to be thinking such deep thoughts, but there’s a fascinating post on Momus’ blog about the “Uncanny Valley” theory. While this is a robotics principle dating from the ’70s, it is extremely relevant today in the world of computer animation and offers an interesting explanation for why CG attempts at human realism in films like FINAL FANTASY are disturbing to our sensibilities. The comments section expands the discussion to encompass Thomas and Johnston’s ILLUSION OF LIFE, Tintin and Hello Kitty providing for some thought-provoking reading.

First Brando, now Chris Reeve…

When Brando died, he left behind an embarassing voice track for an awful looking animated film. Apparently Kal-El is following in Jor-El’s footsteps… According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

Christopher Reeve’s last legacy to film will be an animated children’s feature by IDT that is expected to hit theaters in 2006. The 52-year-old actor was in the midst of directing an animated feature tentatively called “Yankee Irving” about a poor boy in the Depression who befriends Babe Ruth and delivers a game-winning hit for the Yankees. Animation was a perfect fit for Reeve because there was no need to go on location. IDT rigged up two large computer screens in Reeve’s home in Connecticut so he could monitor work done in the company’s studios in Newark, Canada and Israel.