VAN BEUREN’S TOM & JERRY

vbtj.jpgWith those 99¢ Store dvds of Van Beuren’s TOM & JERRY flying off the shelves, interest in this early talkie cartoon duo has never been higher. To the rescue come David Gerstein and Pietro Shakarian with a brand new website devoted to the underappreciated rubber-hose pair.Hosted by Cartoon Research.com, this new Van Beuren Tom & Jerry page is an illustrated filmography, loaded with good information and fun images. David and Pietro are still fine tuning the site and will be adding a few final pieces to the filmography within the next few weeks – but it’s officially open to the public as of today. Good work, guys!

The Return of Stevie and Zoya

Here’s something exciting. Joe Horne is producing new Flash episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF STEVIE & ZOYA. It seems only appropriate to post this while I’m in New York, since Joe is a native NY’er and School of Visual Arts grad, not to mention that the cartoon is set in a futuristic New Yorx, NY. The original STEVIE & ZOYA interstitials appeared on MTV in the late-’80s, the network’s first animated serial. These new episodes don’t look anything like the old ones, but Horne has always been a visual experimenter. His personal projects – MTV’s THE SPECIALISTS (for LIQUID TELEVISION), ESPERANTO FAMILY (for MTV Europe) and the “El Hombre” segments from PEEWEE’S PLAYHOUSE – all have highly distinctive styling. The new STEVIE & ZOYA are no exception and it’s some of the funkiest Web animation I’ve seen in a long time. Guerilla Flash cartooning one could call it – raw and immediate – Joe creates each episode in under a week, making them during his spare time in the evenings; during the days he’s working on Bill Kopp’s Tom & Jerry revamp at WB.

Understanding the production process of these shorts helps explain the unique visual results. Each episode is like an animated improvisation. After deciding the rough plot and action of each short, Horne creates a list of characters, props and backgrounds he needs for the episode. He then plugs the required items into Google’s photo search engine and finds all the artwork (i.e. photos) on the Internet. These photos are then combined with his own artwork. It is a Webcartoon in the truest sense; the cartoons would be impossible to produce without the images he finds online. To add that extra personal touch, Joe also creates the soundtracks himself in Acid.

He’s produced five episodes to date, but plans to make quite a few more. According to Horne, the impetus to create new episodes of STEVIE & ZOYA was quite spontaneous: “Glen Murakami walked up to me one day and said, ‘You should make some more of those Stevie and Zoya cartoons, Joe.’” And so he did. Thank you, Glen. At the moment, the cartoons are only being emailed to friends, but if anybody wants to post the Flash shorts on their site for free, Joe told me he’s down with the idea of sharing them with a larger audience. Drop me a line and I’ll hook you up with him.

Return to Tendlar

tendlar.jpg

I’m a big fan of what I call “mystery art”–stuff that’s entertaining in part because it’s confusing. This piece of original art I happen to own fits the bill. I know it’s of an alligator. And I know it’s stamped “Return to Dave Tendlar,” though I don’t know why. What production, or studio, is it from? And did Tendlar actually draw it, or did he simply wish that it be returned to him? And if the latter, why?

I feel some sort of weird remorse every time I look at it, because clearly, Dave Tendar wanted it back, badly enough to stamp it with a request to that effect in two places–and he apparently didn’t get it. And given that he’s no longer with us, it’s too late to do anything about it.

Anyhow, I’m puzzled by this piece, but I think it has quite a bit of personality, and without knowing what film it’s from, I’m going to guess that this sketch is more exuberant and pleasing than the finished film it was prepared for.

Anyone out there have any guesses or solid information on the story behind the sketch? E-mail me if you do.

OSCARS AND ANIMATION

oscarmic.jpgBrew readers who live in the New York metropolitan area, may want to attend this special classic cartoon screening next Monday night.The Academy Theater at Lighthouse International is screening a weekly showcase of Oscar nominated films entitled, “MONDAY NIGHTS WITH OSCAR”. This Monday, the screening will be focused on cartoons that either won or have been nominated for the Academy Award, in a program entitled “OSCARS AND ANIMATION”. Animator Michael Sporn will be hosting this special evening.The screening starts at 7:30pm. Doors Open at 7pm. Tickets $5, $ 3 for students. For more info call Call 1-888-778-7575 or check the Academy websiteNovember 15, 2004
Academy Theater at Lighthouse International
111 E 59th St
New York, NY(Thanks to Nelson Hughes for the link)

BREW RADIO

Heads up! This Saturday, Brewmaster Jerry Beck will be heard as a guest on a radio show based in New Orleans, which will be broadcast on the internet live and archived on their website. On November 13th at 1 pm Central Time (that’s 2pm on the East coast and 11am on the west) I’ll be on the second hour of “Movie Talk with David DuBos” on WGSO AM 990 (aka Biz Radio), to discuss Looney Tunes! Tune in and Toon in!

FELIX UPDATE

felixtiny.jpg2004 is the 85th Anniversary of the creation of Felix The Cat, and Felix historian David Gerstein has been updating the data on his wonderful wonderful website, The Classic Felix The Cat Page, recently filling out the 1919-1921 Paramount Magazine filmography to it’s most complete form yet. David has uncovered previously unresearched corporate documents and has posted all the titles, and most of the synopses, for the vast majority of these earliest Felix films. Researching silent animation is difficult, but David is diligently making progress on the ultimate resource to the classic Sullivan/Messmer creation.

DISNEY OSWALD PLUSH

plushoz.jpgNow I know what I want for Christmas! These Japanese import Oswald Plush dolls!Who did Bandai license these from? Lantz? Disney? Or are they unauthorized? No child (or sane adult for that matter) has seen an early Disney/Lantz Oswald in over 40 years. Who could the possible consumer be for this product – other than us?To quote the other Bunny: “I’ll take ya’s ta bed wit me every night!” (Thanks To Thad K. for the link)

NY Dispatch #2

The New York trip continues at breakneck pace. In fact, there’s so much left to do that I’ve extended my stay in NY for another week. Here are a few of the highlights from the past few days. Had lunch with John Canemaker and got a tour of the NYU animation facilities, which is a nicer set-up than many studios I’ve seen in LA. Hooked up with Dan Nadel and Peter Buchanan-Smith who run the design firm PictureBox, Inc. I’m hoping they’ll handle the design for my Fifties animation design book, but that still remains to be seen. Attended the “Roast of Bill Plympton” at Caroline’s Comedy Club. It was an entertaining affair with his friends insulting him live on-stage interspersed with clips from his films. Roasters included Signe Baumane, Martha Plimpton and Dan Piraro. The highlight of the evening was John Dilworth’s hilarious play-by-play commentary of Plympton’s Oscar-nominated short YOUR FACE. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch that film again without Dilworth’s interpretation in mind. On top of all this, I’ve been interviewing many terrific folks from the Fifties animation scene, including so far Dolores and George Cannata (sister and brother designers/directors; their father was legendary Felix animator George Cannata Sr.), Larry Pomerance and Ed Smith. Tomorrow, a trip to upstate New York to meet director/designer Ray Favata. Among other things, he was the director of DEPTH STUDY, the great 1957 Terrytoons industrial film for CBS Television. More to report later.

REVIEWS DERAIL POLAR EXPRESS

Manohla Dargis, in reviewing THE POLAR EXPRESS in today’s NY TIMES, makes a few good points worth posting here:

“The Polar Express” is a grave and disappointing failure, as much of imagination as of technology. The largest intractable problem with “The Polar Express” is that the motion-capture technology used to create the human figures has resulted in a film filled with creepily unlifelike beings….With their denatured physiognomy, the human characters in “Polar Express” don’t just look less alive than Gollum; they look less alive than the cartoon family in Brad Bird’s “Incredibles.” It’s baffling that Mr. Zemeckis, who can make the screen churn with life, didn’t see how dead these animated characters look. It’s particularly puzzling since the director’s finest work has been actor-driven movies like “Back to the Future, Part II,” rather than special-effects-laden duds like “Death Becomes Her.”Animation is engaged in a debate that pits traditional and computer-assisted animation against computer-generated animation. The idea that anyone loves “Finding Nemo” because it was made wholly on a computer is absurd, but behind this debate lies a larger dispute not only about animation, but film’s relationship to the world as well. On one side of the divide are Pixar visionaries like Mr. Bird and the “Finding Nemo” co-director Andrew Stanton, who either know they can’t recreate real life or are uninterested in such mimicry, and so just do what animators have always done: they imaginatively interpret the world. On the other side of the divide are filmmakers like George Lucas who seem intent on dispensing with messy annoyances like human actors even while they meticulously create a vacuum-sealed simulacrum of the world. But there’s something depressing and perhaps instructive about how in the attempt to create a new, never-before-seen tale about the wonderment of imagination these filmmakers have collectively lost sight of their own.

The film gets an equally lukewarm reception at the L.A. Times

THE NEW MCBOING BOING

boingboing2.jpgThe latest issue of Animation Magazine has a blurb on the new Gerald McBoing Boing show being developed for Cartoon Network (U.S.) and Teletoon (Canada) by Cookie Jar (formerly Cinar). If the models (at right) aren’t scary enough, Cookie Jar exec Toper Taylor is quoted, calling Gerald “the animated Harold Lloyd of the 1950s”.I have nothing against reviving classic cartoon characters (in fact I’m all for it), I’ve got nothing against a little contemporary updating… but, hey, I’ve got a baaad feeling about this one.
We’ll wait and see.

KEN MUNDIE’S THE DOOR

mundie.jpgIn June 1968, in the middle of Warner Bros. release slate of new Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies (those last-ditch entries, containing Cool Cat, Merlin the Magic Mouse and the worst of the Speedy & Daffy collaborations), the studio distributed an independent animated film called THE DOOR. The studio – and subsequent animation historians – mistakenly had it listed as Merrie Melodies cartoon. What THE DOOR actually was, however, was an artistic, thought provoking anti-war piece, much a part of the era it was produced in (though it’s message is still relevent today). Animator Ken Mundie made it with funding from the Campbell-Silver Cosby Corporation, a production company co-owned by Bill Cosby (who had a recording relationship with Warner Bros. Records – which no doubt led to the film getting a Warner theatrical release). Mundie also directed Cosby’s first, lost, animation Holy Grail, The Fat Albert Special at this time.Brew reader Chris Sobieniak alerts us to this website that allows you to see Mundie’s THE DOOR (in glorious Quicktime) – as well as several of his clever main titles (among them THE WILD WILD WEST, THE GREAT RACE, THE ART OF LOVE) and Mundie’s other personal films. Note: the website link apparently only works on certain mac browsers, others requiring a password. I’ll try to update this link when I can.

1600 BROADWAY

1600broadway.jpgThe site of the Fleischer Studio during it’s heyday of the 1930s is about to come down. An apartment building will probably take its place.The New York Times reports today that the building at 1600 Broadway, built in 1902 as a showroom for Studebaker Brothers vehicles, facing 48th Street and Seventh Avenue, and served over the years as the backdrop for countless postcards and snapshots of the Great White Way, is being demolished.

Columbia Pictures may be said to have been born there, since it was in an office at 1600 Broadway that Harry Cohn, Joseph Brandt and Jack Cohn formed the C.B.C. Film Sales Company in 1920. Four years later, tired of the nickname “Corned Beef and Cabbage,” they renamed the company Columbia. The building also housed the National Screen Service Corporation, suppliers of movie posters and other promotional materials.

Max Fleischer moved his animation studio there December 1st, 1923. For 15 years the studio produced it’s cartoon masterpieces – Koko The Clown, Bouncing Ball “Screen Songs”, Talkartoons, Betty Boop, Grampy, Bimbo, Color Classics and of course, Popeye – in this building. 1600 Broadway is directly across the the street from 729 Seventh Avenue which, in the 1930s, was the home of rival Van Beuren Cartoon Studios. According to the Times:

Sherwood Equities, the owner of the property and the developer of the Renaissance hotel, has applied to the city’s Buildings Department to construct a 25-story, 136-unit apartment tower at 1600 Broadway. Jeffrey Katz, the chief executive of Sherwood, said that he had seriously explored renovating the 102-year-old structure but that doing so would not be feasible. “It’s drastically out of place at this time,” Mr. Katz said. Sherwood purchased the building in 1986 from the Robbins family, which controlled National Screen Service. “We took it over it at a low point, when Times Square was the old Times Square,” Mr. Katz said. “When we bought it, we knew we wouldn’t develop it for a long time.” But that time has come.

In recent years the building, ironically, housed a Popeye’s Fried Chicken outlet at it’s ground floor storefront. Meanwhile in Miami, the Fleischer’s Florida studio building is still intact.(Thanks to Anne D. Bernstein for the link)

DUCK AND COVER!

daffyiraq.jpgWinnie the Pooh meet Daffy the Commando!Agence Française de Presse posted this photo with the caption:

Cartoon characters Winnie the Pooh and Daffy Duck hang on the barrel of a machinegun fixed to a US Humvee belonging to the 1st Cavalry Regiment positioned on the outskirts of Fallujah.

I’m tempted to make a crack about the line from RABBIT FIRE (1951): “Hey, laughing boy, no more bullets?” – but this is no laughing matter.

NY Dispatch #1

New York

This past week I’ve been hanging around New York City on a business trip of sorts, though admittedly, business in my case is fairly enjoyable. I’m here to conduct research, interview artists and collect artwork for my upcoming Chronicle book about Fifties animation design. I won’t go into too many details now, since the book won’t be out until sometime in 2006, but it’s been very exciting to see the book come together these past few months and I’m really pleased with all the incredibly rare and beautiful artwork that’s going to be in this book.

Amazingly, I’d never managed to make it out to NYC before so I’ve been spending a few days checking out the city (mostly Manhattan and Brooklyn so far). I’ve read and seen so much about the place over the years that the city felt instantly familiar, an experience I’ve rarely had while traveling. I arrived in Brooklyn on election night and had dinner with the talented artist couple Celia Bullwinkel and Jim Campbell. We commiserated over the election results; fortunately, the food was terrific at the restaurant Lafayette which made Bush’s victory ever so slightly easier to digest. Also last week, I managed to hook up with the amazing Peter de Sève to work on a piece that’ll appear in a forthcoming issue of GRAPHIS. The issue will be out sometime in the first half of next year and will focus on both his illustration and animation work (including designs that didn’t make it into THE ART OF ROBOTS).

A hearty thanks to the prolific animation director Mike Sporn. Because of his generosity, I’m staying in the trendy Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg (for LA folks, think something like Silver Lake or Echo Park). He actually lives elsewhere, but his extra pad is packed with all sorts of cool animation books, including more volumes on Russian animation than I ever knew existed and Abe Levitow animation notes: a most excellent place to retire to in the evenings. Sunday afternoon I visited with Billyburg local Mark Newgarden and had a marathon session of viewing cool artwork and films at his studio. He’s been helping me with the Fifties book almost from the moment I thought of it, but until now we’d only communicated through email, so it was great to finally meet him. Be sure to check out his new book, the highly entertaining CHEAP LAFFS: THE ART OF THE NOVELTY ITEM. Mark also tells me that Fantagraphics will be releasing a book of his own art in 2005. Something to look forward to.

Oh, and one final note from NYC. Walking down Broadway this past weekend, I saw one of those stands that sell bootlegs of current movies. Front and center were copies of THE INCREDIBLES. The dealer, who identified himself as Big Tony, gave me the pitch. He explained that his bootlegs were transferred directly from the masters. In other words, if I’m thinking of an illegal movie purchase, he’s the guy I’d want to buy from. And he added, “I’m willing to go to jail to give my customers the best movies.” Even if he did conclude that last sentence by shouting, “Big Tony In Da House,” it was still a nice sentiment. I won’t say whether I personally purchased a copy or not, but the good news for Disney is that in the couple minutes I was standing there, INCREDIBLES was one of Big Tony’s best-selling titles.

NEW MACY’S BALLOONS

chickenballoon.jpgDisney’s Chicken Little
getting inflated
There is nothing more American, and commercial, than the good ol’ Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And it’s also a great chance to see some of our favorite cartoons stars blown up as 80 foot balloons!This year Spongebob Squarepants, Disney’s Chicken Little and the Red & Yellow M&Ms will lumber along Broadway, joining such animated floats as Sesame Street muppets (PBS), Tutenstein (NBC Discovery Kids) and Barbie (If you count those CG direct-to-video movies as animated).

Incredibles Tech

My interest in animation and my day job as editor of PC WORLD and DIGITAL WORLD usually don’t intersect much. Here’s a nifty exception: Our Web site has a short but nice story by my colleague Narasu Rebbapragada on Rick Sayre, Pixar’s Supervising Technical Director. He talks a bit about the technology behind THE INCREDIBLES–and the technology in his own life, which is why we’re running the article.

Animator Blogging

One of the most exciting developments in the on-line animation world as of late is the emergence of animation artist blogs. These have been popping up left and right, and I have a feeling there’s still many more of them to come. No doubt plenty of artists already have websites where they post their artwork and resumes, but these blogs are an entirely different animal. They are current and alive, not a static gallery of images, but a powerful communication medium – forums for sharing ideas and techniques, inspiring artwork, gripes and opinions, and educating one another about the art and business of cartoons. True to the personal nature of blogs, each one focuses on different aspects of the art, reflecting the tastes of the individuals running them, but what they all share in common is that they offer an utterly unique perspective on animation that can’t be found anywhere else.

With animation so incompetently represented in the mainstream media (the most recent example, this article), blogs have the added benefit of allowing artists to directly communicate with and educate the public about cartoons, rather than relying on filtered and ineffective third-party reportage. Here are some of the newest arrivals on the scene: The Ward-O-Matic by director/designer Ward Jenkins (of Primal Screen in Atlanta), Punch Pants by the Ghostbot director/designer collective comprised of Roque Ballesteros, Alan Lau and Brad Rau, and Seward Street and Persistence of Vision by DreamWorks animators Jim Hull and Ethan Hurd.

Watch a New Chuck Jones Cartoon for Free

daffy.jpgIf you want to see DAFFY DUCK FOR PRESIDENT, the new four-minute cartoon based on a 1997 Chuck Jones book, you could go out and blow a lot of money on the LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION VOLUME TWO set. OK, you’re getting that set anyhow, and should, but if you haven’t gotten around to it yet (or, like me, are waiting for an Amazon shipment), you can still see the new Daffy cartoon. Yahoo lets you watch it online here, in an apparently exclusive deal with Warner Bros.. (If you still hold out hope that an unexpected recount may make the mallard our next president, you might also want to check out DaffyForPresident.com, which offers an MP3 of a hip-hop campaign song and some screen savers, among other items.)Chuck, despite not being with us any more, is the only guy credited in DAFFY DUCK FOR PRESIDENT’s opening, but the short was directed by Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone. It’s an odd combination of comedy and civics lesson that vaguely reminds me of Chuck’s 1939 short OLD GLORY (which is also in the GOLDEN COLLECTION 2 set, by the way).This cartoon does feel like it’s based on a book that Chuck Jones did in 1997–which I don’t mean as a compliment–but it’s a pleasant way to spend a few minutes, which I can’t say about all the cartoons that Jones was actually involved in as an active participant in his later years. The backgrounds and color styling are particularly nice.You do sort of get the feeling that the only reason anyone saw the 1997 book as material for a new short is the Jones connection, which makes one wonder: Are there any other Jones stories out there that someone is going to decide need to be adapted into a cartoon? Was WILLIAM THE BACKWARDS SKUNK ever animated?