BARRIER TALKS TO TASHLIN

If I were going to make a very personal list of the pleasures of the World Wide Web, it would include the fact that MichaelBarrier.com brings us Mike Barrier’s writing and research so frequently–which is huge improvement over sitting around and wondering when the next FUNNYWORLD might come out, as many of us did back in the 1970s.

Mike has just posted a transcript of his 1971 interview with Frank Tashlin. Among the illustrations are examples of Tashlin’s rather obscure, extremely strange newspaper feature VAN BORING; and there’s an MP3 clip from the interview. If you’ve got any common sense at all–and you do–you’ve already clicked over and are reading the interview right now.

Thoughts While Watching Voom

I’m continuing to watch Voom’s THE CLASSICS animation block in HDTV on the Animania channel, and while I do, I’m mulling over matters such as these:

* Were UPA’s Dick Tracy shorts the worst cartoons ever adapted from a great comic strip? Or at least the most ill-conceived? What would possess one to put a talking bulldog into Chester Gould’s world? Why all the stereotypes? Even Filmation’s Tracys are better, for Pete’s sake…

* Everybody in Joe Oriolo’s Felix cartoons talks veeeerrry sloooooowly. As if they’re trying to kill time.

* Speaking of Joe Oriolo Felixes, they’re the sources of some of my earliest animation memories. But I’d forgotten, or never noticed, that Poindexter is a truly disturbing character. If anybody in 1960s animation would have gone of the deep end and committed unspeakable crimes, it would have been him.

* Not to harp on Joe Oriolo Felixes or anything, but is there even one recorded instance of anyone’s sides aching from excessive laughter, or anyone’s heart going pit-a-pat, while watching one of these cartoons?

* Despite the slow talking, Poindexter’s creepy qualities, and the misleading theme song, someone at Voom must like Joe Oriolo Felixes–so far, they’ve made up not just the Felix block but also around half of the Magoo block (which I was hoping would be all obscure Columbias).

* Stuff like UPA Dick Tracys and Joe Oriolo Felixes does little or nothing to show off HDTV–but the interstitials between them (animated by Primal Screen, I think) are stunning in their clarity. By far the crispest animation I’ve ever seen outside a theater.

* Voom is promoting the premiere of something called MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS this Sunday. It could be a new special, but I suspect it’s MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL.

* The best thing about the CLASSICS block so far by far: Tonight it included a Columbia Fox and Crow I’d never seen before–the fine and funny UNSURE RUNTS (1946), in which the Crow sells car insurance to the Fox. It was worth sitting through UPA Dick Tracys and Joe Oriolo Felixes to see it–and that’s saying a lot.

CANEMAKER FILM TO PREMIERE AT MoMA

THE MOON AND THE SON, a 30-minute autobiographical animated film by John Canemaker, will have its world premiere at the Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53rd Street, New York City) on Wednesday January 5, 2005 at 7:30pm. (Repeat screening on Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 2:30pm)Featuring the voices of actors Eli Wallach and John Turturro, THE MOON AND THE SON explores the difficult emotional terrain of father/son relationships as seen through Canemaker’s own turbulent relationship with his father. The film employs a variety of animation techniques — literally drawing understanding from its dark subject matter.Canemaker creates an imaginary conversation with his deceased father, using memory, fact, conjecture, trial transcripts, audio recordings, home movies, photos, snapshots, and original animation to tell the story of his father’s life and his own. For more information, visit: www.johncanemaker.com

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HOLIDAY GIFT SUGGESTION #1

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In the next several days I will point out a few gift suggestions for the cartoon freak in your family – or to buy yourself to counter those holiday depression blues… Thunderbean Animation has started releasing a series of DVDs of classic cartoons that are a must for your home animation library. I never thought I’d live to see the day someone would issue The Complete Adventures of CUBBY BEAR – and since no one else had the guts, Thunderbean has done it! This is a marvelous companion to the 99� Store Van Beuren Tom & Jerry dvds – Thunderbean has collected (from various private collector sources) all 20 Cubby Bear epics – including the three rare Harman-Ising productions (done in that period between leaving Leon Schlesinger and signing with MGM). Surreal gags, crazy animation and hot jazzy soundtracks!FELIX THE CAT And Other Rareties From The 1920s is great collection oddball silent animation well worth having. Despite Felix getting the top billing, there are only four of the Cat’s Otto Messmer classics here – the rest of the set contains early Laugh-O-Grams, Terry/VanBeuren, Lantz and Hurd curiosities. “Fresh Lobster”, a really weird live action/animation film, starring Billy Bletcher battling a giant crustation, is a true highlight. (This dvd is a little harder to find, and is being offered mainly through ebay)Finally, POPEYE Original Classics is an absolute must. It contains several 1930s Fleischer cartoons – all in excellent shape with “restored” original titles – and a wealth of bonus material. Interviews with Jack Mercer (by Michael Sporn!), Mae Questel, Jackson Beck, Shamus Culhane, and others, The 1939 Popular Science “Behind The Scenes at the Fleischer Studios” film, model sheets, a Soaky Bubble Bath commercial from the 60s, pencil tests, and much more. The VCI dvd (which I consulted on) has more cartoons – but the Thunderbean collection is excellent, and well worth it for the bonus materials alone.The packaging and menus are also wonderful. Steve Stanchfield and his Thunderbean crew have done a incredible job!

THE FOX AND CROW ARE IN THE HOUSE

Voom LofoAs a cartoon fan, I’m embarassed to admit this: I’ve had the ability–and even a good excuse–to watch Fox and Crow cartoons at work for months, and it took until tonight for me to use it.

We’ve been reviewing big HDTV sets for PC WORLD and DIGITAL WORLD, and our setup includes a satellite TV feed from Voom, the HD-centric service. One of the service’s many channels is Animania, an all-cartoon network–no relation to Dave Mruz’s gone-but-not-forgotten fanzine. Part of that channel’s lineup is a block called THE CLASSICS. I just got done watching about 45 minutes of it.

In this case, “classic” seems to consist of stuff that nobody else cares to run–including UPA Dick Tracy cartoons and Joe Oriolo Felix ones. In high-definition, they seem twice as long and twice as bad as in standard-def, though I confess I sat transfixed by their sheer awfulness and the fact that the HD broadcast let me see the dust on the cels. (It’s not just me: Two less animation-obsessed coworkers happened by me as I was watching, and stopped to to partake in low-rent 1960s animation for awhile themselves.)

What I was really interested in was Animania’s Mr. Magoo show (part of the CLASSICS block) since I’d heard it ran Magoo theatricals and Fox and Crows, possibly among other cartoons of interest. Which, tonight, it did–though the F&C was UPA’s ROBIN HOODWINKED rather than a Columbia. And the half-hour Magoo block consisted of just one Magoo and the F&C, filled out with two Oriolo Felixes, which segued into…a full half-hour show of Oriolo Felixes. (The Felix show is followed by a Pink Panther one, but I didn’t watch long enough to check if it was early theatrical Panthers or what.)

Sadly, THE CLASSICS are only shown in prime-time and late at night, which means I’ll need to stay at work until 8pm to have a hope of seeing the Fox and Crow or other obscure Columbias. (We don’t have a setup at the moment which would let us record and time-shift HD.)

But I often hang around work until lateish anyhow, and if I could reliably see a theatrical cartoon or two I wasn’t familiar with–and there are plenty of UPAs and Columbias I haven’t seen–it would be a nice way to wrap up the day.

Stay tuned for further notes.


BRAD & MATT

incredibles3.jpgNo, not Pitt & Damon!Asifa Hollywood members can see THE INCREDIBLES again this week at the Writers Guild Screening Room, Thursday night at 7pm, this time with Brad Bird in person. Joining Brad, in fact moderating the Q&A session after the film, will be none other than Matt Groening.And after that… Mmmm, donuts! …Desserts will be served. Want more information? Go to www.Asifa-Hollywood.org. And if you live in SoCal and aren’t a member of Asifa… why aren’t you??

BLAIR DOG SPOTTED

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Brew regular Chris Sobieniak caught this swipe:

While having to go to the store earlier today, I came across what I spotted as a near identical pose lifted from one of Preston Blair’s famous animation books! The Ohio Lottery Commission has released a scratch ‘n win ticket called Lucky Dog Doubler that shows a dog with a wad of cash in his mouth while having his front left paw out.I decided to check for that same image in “Cartoon Animation” and it couldn’t help but think of how uncanny if was for some artist to swipe that shot from page 13 (though with some slight modifications and other liberties thrown in). I’ve attached the dogs in question just so you can compare, but I got a laugh seeing that on a scratch ‘n win ticket!

Speaking of Licensable Bears…

PoohIn Japan, an AOL-like service called Open Data Network promotes itself using a Disney Pooh theme. In the US, that would mean it was targeting kids, but (as best as I can tell) they’re not particularly doing that in cute-friendly Japan. In fact, I have a sign-up disc with a video that seems to show two successful businesswomen using a service called PoohMail2Plus. (I picked up the disc when I was in Tokyo last year, and just found it in my messy office–which is why I’m suddenly bringing all this up.)

ODN’s Pooh site is available for your entertainment here. It’s 99% in Japanese, and that’s one reason why I just spent about five minutes wandering around it, being pleasantly confused. If you like oddball uses of American cartoon characters in foreign lands, I suggest you do the same.

One other note: Both the disc and the site have prominent credits for A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard. I’m not sure why–or if they’d be pleased or disgruntled to be associated with the Disneyfied versions of their characters. But it’s nice to see an example of Disney licensing that actually credits the guys who came up with the characters in the first place.

Dem Bones

Betty BoopOver at my very own Harry Go Round, Kip Williams is reporting on Michael Paulus’s Skeletal Systems, a series of drawings of…well, of the skeletons of cartoon characters we know and love, including everyone from Baby Huey to the Shmoo.

If you’re in Portland (Oregon, that is) you can see these in person at a coffee shop this month. If you’re anywhere else, stop by the online gallery and prepare to spend some time being startled and fascinated.

A Fishy Review

I haven’t seen THE LIFE AQUATIC yet, but last I heard the film’s animated sequences were created with stop motion by Henry Selick and company. Apparently nobody bothered telling this to A.O. Scott at the NY TIMES since he refers to the “computer-animated fish” in his review of the film. Animation director Ben Zelkowicz, who pointed out the TIMES gaffe, notes: “But I like Scott’s idea of a double bill with SpongeBob – two underwater themed movies within a month featuring stop motion. Most stop motion has been relegated to the sad realm of Christmas nostalgia. Perhaps this is a sea change.”

Hand Drawn and CG Working Together

This article at MILLIMETER reveals how Brad Bird was able to inject a hand-drawn sensibility into THE INCREDIBLES. Pixar developed a new tool especially for Bird called “Review Sketch,” which allowed him to draw on top of a projected image using a digitizing pen. These drawings were then accessible on the studio’s intranet by other members of his team. DreamWorks animator Jim Hull discusses the tool further on his blog, Seward Street.

All I Want For Christmas

This holiday season, the Walt Disney Company is offering twenty of their greatest animated classics on DVD, for less than $1 per film. Let’s see…there’s ALADDIN and JUNGLE BOOK and CINDERELLA and SLEEPING BEAUTY and ALICE IN WONDERLAND and… hey wait… wait one second! I don’t remember the Genie from ALADDIN being yellow? And since when does Ariel from THE LITTLE MERMAID have a pet dolphin? Could it be that another company is producing animated films based on the same public domain fairy tales that Disney uses. Geez, what are the odds of that happening? On a related note, I’m wondering if any states consider it child abuse if you force your kids to watch these GoodTimes versions of Disney films.

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ASIFA HOLLYWOOD XMAS PARTY

asifaxmas3.jpgYou are invited!The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, will be holding its annual animated Xmas Party at the new ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Center in Burbank on Friday December 17th. Refreshments will be served. All are welcome. Don’t be afraid, it’s free!This will also be the first public viewing of our new headquarters in Burbank. Before we move our archives, library and offices into the space, while it’s still empty, it’s a perfect place for a Holiday Season bash!Live music! Food! Cartoons! Fun!
Join us!December 17th, 2004 at 7:30pm
The New ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Center
2114 Burbank Blvd.
Burbank (4 blocks east of Buena Vista on the South side of the street)

Remembering J.P. Miller

Here at Cartoon Brew, we are pleased to present this exclusive remembrance of animation/illustration legend J.P. Miller, who recently passed away at age 91. This is the eulogy that was delivered at Miller’s funeral. It is written by his brother, George Miller, and is reprinted with kind permission from the family.

A Remembrance of John Parr Miller
by George Miller

Thank you for coming to honor John. I’m glad to see that some of you here were fortunate in growing up under the spell of “Uncle John,” that surprising adult who was in some ways a child, too. John, himself, was fortunate in having many such nephews and nieces — whether or not there was a blood connection.

There are others here for whom John’s Turtle Bay apartment served as an oasis while running errands in the City. And at twilight, a haven where talented, amusing and gentle people gathered to entertain one another. We might hope, too, that in this large and airy church there may be room for the spirits of John’s many life-long friends who have passed on before.

So, let us now remember John Parr Miller — not in the garb in which he left us — but as he was when we were all much younger.

Not all of you know that his start in life was unpromising and often painful. His adored mother died when he was fourteen — and six years later his father followed her. Also, John was embarrassed by his own height, which never topped five-foot-five. A victim of school yard bullies, he was sure — well into his adult life — that his physical stature would mark him for failure.

Although John had an inquiring mind, it was generally out of synch with school curricula, and I’m not certain that he ever earned a high school diploma. This fact will come as a surprise to those who remember the hundreds and hundreds of volumes he amassed, his sizable music library and the boundless range of his intellect.

As we all know, John’s handicaps — whatever they were –melted before his passion for art and the merciless eye with which he judged his own work.

So, in the company of his new family — that is to say, my widowed mother and my two-year-old self — he headed out to Hollywood, during the depths of the Great Depression. My mother shoved this retiring young man out the door with the portfolio he had assembled in art school and told him to find work. And he did. With Walt Disney’s budding studio, only four years after the birth of Mickey Mouse.

John was assigned a place among the rows and rows of drawing boards occupied by those at the bottom of the food chain — the in-betweeners. The reason there had never been a full length cartoon feature until Snow White was that producing even the usual five-minute short entailed enormous toil. Film races through a movie projector at 24 frames per second, and every one of those frames must be painted. If an animator were to draw a figure with a raised arm and then again with the arm lowered, the in-betweener (John) filled in all the intervening positions. So, John, who in his school days had been looked after by a butler, a cook and a maid, now found himself on the assembly line in what was known by all as the “black hole.”

Fortunately, the magnitude of his talent was quickly recognized, and he soon escaped that drudgery, climbing successive rungs until at age 24 he was tapped as one of the three founding members of the elite Character Model Department. Its purpose was to bring Snow White to completion and conceptualize the string of features that would follow. That meant designing the characters and providing other Disney artists with a vivid sense of the mood and atmosphere of each movie’s settings. To quote one film historian…

A member must have a knowledge of the architecture of all periods and nationalities. He must be able to visualize and make interesting a tenement or a prison. He must be a cartoonist, a costumer, a marine painter, a designer of ships, an interior decorator, a landscape painter, a dramatist, an inventor and an acoustical expert.”

Disney couldn’t have found a better man than John. He contributed in this fashion to every feature from the historic SNOW WHITE to PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA, DUMBO, THE RELUCTANT DRAGON and SALUDOS AMIGOS. Disney was famously reluctant to credit work to others. And likewise, John hated to acknowledge anything he ever did for Disney.

Most of you got to know John after his tour in the Navy making training films. That’s when he cut himself loose from Disney and asserted his own style as a freelance illustrator.

George Duplaix, the founder of Golden Books, recruited John and several other Disney veterans to join the revolution he was fomenting in children’s literature. He wanted to open up a mass market and to enlist artists who would bring a fresh and exciting style to the field — beyond the blandness of “Dick & Jane” primers. The idea caught on, and other publishers jumped in, churning out hundreds of titles — many with the shelf life of a mayfly. But not John’s. He never made a deadline on time. And he never turned in a book without first working all through the night. Because in his eyes the work was never good enough.

That perfectionism remains his legacy. Even though it’s been ten years since he completed his last book, his work is so timeless that six titles are still in print. One of them — first issued 50 years ago — has become Golden’s number 3 best seller since its recent reissue. Three more titles are soon to be re-released. And another 41 enjoy an active after-life as used books on the Barnes & Noble website. This month the Donnell Library (opposite the Museum of Modern Art) displayed John’s work as one of the pioneers of the Golden Books revolution.

Although no obituary has yet appeared [note: since this was written, the NY TIMES has published one], the word has spread, and I’ve received letters from other artists that neither John nor I have ever met.

One, Bob Staake, said…

As a child I was enthralled by J.P. Miller’s art. That I hoped I would grow up to become an illustrator as well is a testament to the inspiring nature of your brother’s talent. My biggest regret is that I never had the chance to meet JP face to face and tell him how his art affected me — and how it still does.

And from Dan Yaccarino

I am an illustrator and JP’s work has been a source of inspiration to me throughout my career. Whether or not he was aware of it, his work was brilliant. It continues to challenge me to push my own work farther. I just finished my first Golden Book and the most exciting part of it was that I am now able to be associated with the great JP Miller.

So, what should we — who did know John — remember of him. That just as John was not an “accidental” artist, neither was he accidentally charming. He applied the same insight and creativity to surprise and delight us. When he gave a child a piggy bank, he would include a sack of 100 pennies. When he borrowed a friend’s county house, he left in the back field a life-size cut-out of a reclining cow. When I — as a 15 year old transplant from Southern California — was invited to share his harbor-front apartment in Provincetown for a whole summer, the amenities included a small sailboat he had bought for me, sailing lessons at a nearby wharf and a neighborhood kid as a sailing pal, who is now my oldest friend.

During the long and difficult years that followed his marriage, many of you came to his rescue, opening your homes to him for extended stays and providing counsel and the comfort of moral support. Although John always doubted his own talents and magnified his modest failings, I hope that through these kindnesses returned he came to realize that –in all respects — he was a very worthy man.



ANNIE AWARD NOMINEES

incredibles4.jpgAsifa Hollywood announced it’s nominees for it’s annual Annie Awards today. The list is too long to post here but key nominees are:Best Animated Feature
Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence
The Incredibles
Shrek 2
The SpongeBob SquarePants MovieBest Home Entertainment Production
The Lion King 1 1/2 – DisneyToon Studios
Mickey, Donald & Goofy “The Three Musketeers” – DisneyToon Studios
Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster – Warner Bros. AnimationBest Animated Short Subject
Agricultural Report – Barley Films
It’s The Cat – Mark Kausler
Lorenzo – Walt Disney Pictures
Rockfish – Blur Studio
Ryan – Nat’l Film Board of CanadaBest Animated Television Production
Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends – Cartoon Network Studios
My Life As A Teenage – Frederator/Nickelodeon
SpongeBob SquarePants – Nickelodeon
Star Wars: Clone Wars – Cartoon Network Studios
The Batman – Warner Bros. AnimationThe winners are announced at the Annie Awards ceremony on January 30th, at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The complete list of nominees is posted on Asifa-Hollywood’s website.