SCREEN SAVERS

screensavers.jpgSet the TiVo tonight: Brewmaster Jerry Beck will appear as a guest on The Screen Savers which appears on Comcast’s digital channel, G4techTV. The Screen Savers is a daily live broadcast that features the latest internet/video game/consumer electronics news. I’m not sure what they are gonna ask me about, but I’ll be plugging my new book and the BREW. The show airs live at 4pm Pacific, 7pm Eastern – and will rerun later at midnight and sometime over the weekend.

Don’t Squeeze The Sponge!

spongebob6.jpgOh, log this one under super-ridiculous!My pals over at Animation Magazine sent me the heads up on today’s New York Times article, covering the conservative right going after Nick’s SpongeBob as a possible symbol of gay America and therefore bad for kids. Good grief! Can’t sponges hold hands with starfish anymore????!!! Well…on the upside, at least it’s keeping cartoons on the front page of NY Times online! The Times article is HERE (reg. req’d). Other reportage (no reg. required) HERE.

Gene Deitch’s Definition of Animation

Academy Award winning animator Gene Deitch has a few thoughts on THE POLAR EXPRESS and the definition of animation – and I am taking the liberty of posting them here (because I agree with him):

polarex.jpgI’ve been reading in various film journals, and in the popular media that POLAR EXPRESS is being referred to as an “animated film,” and is hoping for an Oscar in the Animation Feature category. This greatly concerns me, as a threat to our art and craft.We’ve seen plenty of technological development in animation, from the praxinoscope, through paper and cel animation, CGI computer animation, Flash, etc. but they all adhere to the same basic principles. Whatever the merits or demerits of POLAR EXPRESS as a film, I don’t believe that Motion Capture, being basically the same as any live action film, that is action created in real time, is consistent with the definition of cinematic animation. I would say the same for string marionette film, TEAM AMERICA, which is also not cinema animation.Many years ago John Halas invited me to construct a technical definition of cinema animation, which I attempted to do, avoiding all limited terms such as “frames” or “film,” but getting down to the very basics.POLAR EXPRESS, it seems to me, opens up the possibility of a whole new category, which may possibly develop; Motion Capture, as a way of creating a special kind of virtual reality. Whether it’s a good thing, or a blind alley, is another subject for discussion. In the meantime, here follows my personal attempt to define what animation basically is, technically. So far, no one has challenged it, and it has been part of my book on animation for many years.”CINEMATIC ANIMATION: The recording of individually created phases of imagined action in such a way as to achieve the illusion of motion when shown at a constant, predetermined rate, exceeding that of human persistence of vision.”

FRED PATTEN IN HOSPITAL

fredpatten.jpgGood friend of the BREW, anime historian Fred Patten was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday, diagnosed with pneumonia.Fred is a Japanese animation expert par excellence, who writes regular columns on anime for NEWTYPE USA, ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE, and numerous other publications. He is very active at comics and sci-fi conventions and his book, WATCHING ANIME, READIING MANGA was just published last month.I know he would love to hear from his friends – donations of science fiction novels would probably be welcome as he recuperates. Fred can be reached at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital, 4650 Lincoln Blvd., Marina del Rey, CA 90292 or 310-823-8911 ext. 1409Get well, Fred!

Dan Lee, R.I.P.

Following a battle with cancer, animation artist Dan Lee passed away last weekend at age 35. He had most recently been doing story and character design at Pixar where his credits included FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY 2 and A BUG’S LIFE. Jamie Baker and Ronnie del Carmen remember Dan’s life and work on their blogs. Recent photos of Dan taken by Amber MacLean can be found HERE.

UPDATE: Enrico Casarosa remembers Dan on his BLOG.

Tom Ray Drawings

TomRay.jpgEver since Amid posted the note about the Irv Spence diary, I’ve been thinking and thinking about him…Irv, I mean. I could swear I had some info about that diary from a Women In Animation oral history interview conducted by Sari Gennis, Libby Simon and me. I’ve got a call into Libby about that, however, in my search for info on Irv I came across these two sweet drawings Tom Ray did for me ten years ago that I forgot I had. After an apprenticeship at Schlesinger’s, Ray worked for almost every studio including John Sutherland Productions, WB (where he worked on more than 40 productions), MGM, H-B, Marvel and later at WBTV on TINY TOONS, Walt Disney on the 101 DALMATIONS TV show and at Sony on the MEN IN BLACK TV show. Cool to think he was able to bridge the gap between the Golden Age and modern cartooning. Plus, I just like these little drawings; they have so much life.

Asterisk Hip To PreSchool

flyingv2.jpgOne universal truth is that you meet the coolest people at animation film festivals. I met Richard O’Connor at Ottawa on a panel and was completely taken with his single-minded nature, intense opinions and super-human ability to make Asterisk, his indie studio in New York, a success. Richard just sent me four shorts that I really like. Here’s what the press release says, but let’s just say I highly recommend FLYING V. Check it out HERE.

They Might Be Giants and Disney called on Asterisk to create four pieces based on original TMBG songs for the dvd HERE COME THE ABCs. Asterisk created each video with a different look and approach. D&W uses puppets composited into watercolor environments; FLYING V uses the comical illustration style of underground cartoonist Sam Henderson; T SHIRT is animated in a classic WB style; and CAN YOU FIND IT? is a low-fi homage to WHERE’S WALDO? The films will also air on the Playhouse Disney preschool block on The Disney Channel. Good on ya, Richard!

Notes from the Cartoon Blogosphere

> Ben Ettinger takes an in-depth look at the work of independent Japanese animator Tadanari Okamoto. Okamoto worked in an impressive variety of animation techniques include clay, puppet, cel, low relief and yam animation. Let that be a lesson to all the people who said that yams belonged only in stews and not up on the bigscreen. I’ve seen only one of his films before, MONKEY AND CRAB (courtesy of Seamus and Mark), and it’s a wild stop motion trip. After reading Ben’s appreciation, I want to search out more of Okamoto’s work.

> Shane Glines has jumped on the blog bandwagon (blogwagon?), and started his own Cartoon Retro blog HERE. If you’re not subscribing to Cartoon Retro (a mere $5 a month), you’re missing out on one of the best cartoon/illustration/animation resources that’s ever hit the ‘net. No hyperbole there; it continues to become more impressive and inspiring everyday.

> Jim Hull is posting audio files of a lecture delivered by master animator Milt Kahl at Disney in the late-’70s. The first three tracks are currently posted on his site, SewardStreet.com, and he’ll be posting more clips of Milt’s talk weekly. I can only imagine how many great lectures are floating around out there or stashed away in people’s personal collections, and deserving to be preserved on-line where they can be heard by a global audience. Just the other night, I found in my own files a tape of 101 DALMATIANS color stylist Walt Peregoy speaking at DreamWorks around 1997 or so. It’s lively, thought-provoking and full of interesting exchanges between Walt and his attentive audience. This is exactly the type of thing that should be available for all to hear. Reading in a book about Eyvind Earle’s bg styling for SLEEPING BEAUTY is one thing, but hearing one of the main background painters on the film tell you why the work doesn’t gel is a completely unique experience, regardless of whether one agrees with the assessment or not. This exchange between Walt and one of the artists in the audience is particularly priceless:

DreamWorks artist: When I look at SLEEPING BEAUTY, compared to what I see today, it’s amazing.
Walt Peregoy: No.
DreamWorks artist: I think so.
Walt Peregoy: Well, you’re suffering from a delusion. I’m sorry.

Unfortunately, the Walt talk isn’t online (yet), but Milt Kahl is and he’s definitely worth hearing.

MLK Animation

animaction_dream.jpgIn honor of Martin Luther King Day, I would like to guide you to a lovely cartoon produced by Clifford Cohen’s non-profit, Animaction, here in Hollywood, California. Animaction’s Awareness Through Animation program has helped thousands of “children of all ages develop effective communication skills and address critical social issues through the creation and production of short animated films.” Basically Animaction goes to a school, spends one to two days and helps the students work together to create a public service announcement on a topic of importance to that community. One of my favorite works that has come out of this powerful institution is THE DREAM, a look at the ideals of MLK. You can view it on the PBS website.

RAY HARRYHAUSEN: THE EARLY YEARS

rhdvd.jpgRay Harryhausen is making several live appearences in L.A. during the next few weeks to promote his book (which I got for Christmas) and a new DVD (which I watched last night). The new DVD is called RAY HARRYHAUSEN: THE EARLY YEARS, and it’s a must-have for fans of Harryhausen, stop motion animation, students of Hollywood history and everyone who grew up with Jason and the Argonauts and Famous Monsters of Filmland.This dvd collects Harryhusen’s rare Mother Goose Stories and Fairy Tales, newly restored and more vivid and vibrant than they’ve ever looked. This dvd also collects all of Ray’s early stop motion experiments, tests, commercials and wartime training films. There is a nice featurette on the making of The Tortoise & The Hare that shows the modelmaking and painstaking process required to make these films. And that’s only disc one.On disc two are various interviews with Ray (sometimes with old pals Forry Ackerman and Ray Bradbury) including his recieving a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and an extensive interview with Leonard Maltin at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. There are still photo galleries, tributes by famous filmmakers and a wonderful mini-documentary on the restoration of these fairy tale films and test fragments. There is more material than I can list – suffice to say, check the website and buy this dvd. It goes on sale February 1st and I highly recommended it.

JERRY BECK ON G4TECHTV

g4tvlogo.jpgMedia Alert: Brewmaster Jerry Beck is scheduled to appear as a guest on Comcast’s video game channel G4techTV (aka G4TTV) next Friday, January 21st. I’ll appear on Screen Savers, a daily live broadcast that features the latest internet/video game/consumer electronics news. What I’ll be doing on this show, I have no idea. But I’ll plug the Brew and my new book ANIMATION ART. The show airs live at 4pm Pacific, 7pm Eastern – and will rerun over the weekend.

OSBORN’S DILBERT

osborne.jpgI’d never heard of cartoonist Robert Osborn before today.Cartoonist Paul Giambarba has started a new weblog devoted to cartoonists past and present, and his first lengthy entry is devoted to Osborn, and his drawings of Lt. Dilbert, USN – a character who appeared in thousands of posters and service manuals describing all sorts of hazards to U.S. Navy pilots during World War II. Milton Caniff’s Male Call is the subject of his next posting.Also check out Giambarba’s other blog 100 Years Of Illustration & Design where he examines the likes of Howard Pyle, Haddon Sunblom and Norman Rockwell, among others. Beautiful stuff.

The Animation Show Is back

Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt’s THE ANIMATION SHOW is back for a second edition, and it’s another fine film line-up. They recently announced the program and opening theatrical dates at TheAnimationShow.com. Included in this year’s festival: the terrific WARD 13 which Rita wrote about yesterday, the debut of Don Hertzfeldt’s epic short THE MEANING OF LIFE, the impressive-looking CG short FALLEN ART, and films by the likes of Bill Plympton, Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby and Georges Schwizgebel. Fireworks will be provided by Pes.

All that, plus this excellent poster by Tim Biskup…

AS A PUBLIC SERVICE…

3amigos1.jpgThe United Nations has announced the release this week of The Three Amigos, a series of 20 short, professionally produced animated Public Service Announcements designed to encourage the use of condoms to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout the world. The three animated condom characters are named – get this – Shaft, Stretch and Dick.

“The launch today at the United Nations by Firdaus Kharas, Producer and Director of the series, signifies the start of the world’s largest integrated behaviour modification programme. The Three Amigos is a groundbreaking HIV/AIDS prevention strategy, strongly supported by Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has called the PSA’s “a powerful communicating tool”, has written an open letter to broadcasters around the world which he calls “an impassioned plea” to “use these PSA’s. They cannot be played enough”. The Three Amigos is currently playing continuously in South Africa, the Netherlands and Canada. As of today, an international roll-out will offer the PSA’s free to broadcasters, NGO’s and community groups in any country.”

Stop-Frame Ward

ward132.jpgI’m a huge stop-motion fan, so was interested to score a DVD copy of Australian filmmaker Peter Cornwell’s WARD 13 last week. In addition to some impressive awards in 2004 for this 14:35 minute-long mental trip, Cornwell’s short boasts some pretty spectacular fight scenes. The website for the film is also pretty tricked-out (www.ward13.com.au) and includes a few tidbits of backstage info like:

“The seemingly endless corridors of the Art Deco hospital in WARD 13 are in fact just three 75cm-long modules which clamped together on a metal L-profile slide rail. In many shots, the camera appears to track smoothly with the characters as they run or motor down the corridors. In fact, both camera and figures were stationary, and it was the corridor modules that were moved along with each frame. The size of the movement varied with the apparent speed of the characters. As each module moved out of frame, it was carefully detached from the others and reclamped at the front, perhaps with different model furniture and props or a fake door flat.”

Definitely worth seeing for the animation in the action scenes.

The Irv Spence Blog

Daily visual inspiration for the rest of ’05. Sweet! Here’s an awesome BLOG where somebody (“Filboid Sudge”) is uploading the 1944 day-by-day illustrated diary of animation great Irv Spence. Irv was an animator in Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s Tom & Jerry unit at the time, and he kept the diary throughout the entire year of ’44, documenting daily events at MGM and in his personal life. This was during the height of WWII so there’s plenty of references to victory gardens, gas shortages and the like. I’ve seen the entire diary and there’s beautiful energetic drawings throughout, somewhat reminiscent of George Lichty’s newspaper comic GRIN & BEAR IT.

Weebls Wobble Good

One of the gigs I have had the privilege to work on recently was THE NICKTOONS FILM FESTIVAL (last episode on this Sunday at 7:00 pm, PST) with Frederator Studios. As a co-producer, I got to screen a ton of really great cartoons from around the world. And while we were still doing our call for entries I got to ask my friends for suggestions on shorts they’d like to see submitted. One great friend, Rick Sayre, said, “You would be totally hip to run WEEBL AND BOB.”

Now, if you don’t know Rick there are three interesting things to consider about him. One: he can find the best chocolate and wine in any town in the world – always an important asset for a good friend. Two: he’s one of those genius types that works over at that little old shop called Pixar and served as supervising technical director on THE INCREDIBLES. Three: you try to listen when a cool guy like that gives you advice.

Ever since Rick clued me in to Weebl, a.k.a. U.K.-based Jonti Picking, I’ve been hooked on the Flash series WEEBL AND BOB as well as his other Monty Python-esque and perversely silly shorts like THE LORD 3. The WEEBL AND BOB series definitely has its particular following, but I highly recommend it simply for its shameless surrealism-meets-every-ball-shaped-guy world. Plus, if you want to get a full dose of Weebl-ism, there’s a brand new DVD out on the site. (Go to http://www.weebl.jolt.co.uk/)

After you check out WEEBL AND BOB, I also suggest going HERE and checking out the “toons” header. There you’ll not only find odd little gems like the can’t-get-that-damn-music-out-of-your-head KENYA and a really super out-there series from Michael Firth called SALAD FINGERS.

Innovation, Imagination and Squiggly Lines

priestley.jpgAnimator Joanna Priestley is celebrating 20 years as an innovative independent artist with a new 2-DVD anthology of her work. The two discs, titled FIGHTING GRAVITY and RELATIVE ORBITS, collect 16 of her animated short films, and contain many bonus features, including 4 documentaries providing behind-the-scenes glimpses into the animation process. She is self-distributing the discs and packed them with high-quality transfers and fun bonus features. Her unique animated films are full of compelling themes dealing with gender, love, aging, human rights, and candy(!).Joanna Priestley is the founding president of ASIFA-Northwest, and she runs an apprenticeship program through her studio in Portland, Oregon.Please visit www.PrimoPix.com for more information.

A Brush With Will Eisner

Mark Bunker sent in this nice memory of recently departed comic legend Will Eisner:

Eisner has long been my favorite comic book artist. The only comics with which I haven’t parted are my Spirit issues from Warren and Kitchen Sink. I marvel at his story telling abilities and the wide range of tone and subject matter he would explore within what would seem a limited superhero genre.

While I was in college, Denis Kitchen came to campus for a comic book expo. I dragged one of my friends along from the drama department. Holly had no interest in comics but I had to introduce her to the work of Eisner. It was one of two introductions for her that day because I insisted on meeting and talking with Denis Kitchen and introduced him to Holly, who would soon after become his wife.

I went on to do some acting and writing including a few radio dramas for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. The woman in charge of the statewide radio drama department had worked in the 40′s for another hero of mine, Carlton E. Morse of “One Man’s Family” and “I Love a Mystery” fame. She told me they had some money left over for a radio series and I pitched her “The Spirit” as a possibility. She was interested.

I wrote two sample half hour shows. The first was the Spirit’s origin with a wrap around of the “Death, Taxes and the Spirit,” the story of IRS agents investigating Denny Colt. The second script was based on “Meet P’Gell.” I laid out a series of thirteen stories taken from my favorite Spirit adventures. All would have been faithful adaptations that I hoped would bring greater attention to Eisner’s stories which were just starting to be reprinted by Kitchen Sink.

Okay, one wasn’t so faithful. I wanted to pay tribute to Eisner’s fondness of spoofing 40′s movies and radio shows by having one broadcast done completely as a Jack Benny show with Jack and the gang doing their version of “The Spirit.” It would have brought together two of my favorite passions at the time…and allow me to do my Benny impression again .

Denis gave me Eisner’s address and I approached him with the idea. Unfortunately, he had just signed a deal to bring the Spirit to the big screen as an animated film. As I recall, there was later an announcement from an animation studio about the film as well as another production based on Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo.” While “Little Nemo” was released in 1992, I’m not sure if it was from the same studio although it likely was.

So I never got to do “The Spirit” but I did receive a lovely handwritten note from Eisner thanking me for my interest and explaining the situation. The Spirit film sadly never happened.

Further Beauty-full Thoughts

If you read my last post, you’ll know I’ve been thinking a lot about Sleeping Beauty. So much so that I asked the guys where they stand on the movie and whether or not Earle’s work had any influence on later Disney films. Here’s what Jerry had to offer:

“I love Sleeping Beauty. It’s one of my all-time favorite animated movies, one of the Disney studio’s best! You haven’t lived till you see it in 70mm on a huge screen (as I did at the Cinerama Dome – it’s whole a different experience). I see no evidence of Earle having left any lasting influence at the Disney studio through 1992. Some recent shorts and features (by the new generation) look to have his influence (“Mulan,” “John Henry,” maybe a little Home on the Range”).”

And Amid sent me this great quote that really hints at the tension in the studio that must have been a bit more blatant once Earle was onboard with the project:

For Eyvind’s perspective, here is a quote from his book, HORIZON BOUND ON A BICYCLE: “Never before had Walt given one person the freedom and authority to take over the designing of an entire animated feature. The old time animators who were revered as gods at the Disney Studios, were in the habit of telling the directors of each sequence what colors they wanted their characters to be, and working directly with the ink and paint department.”

“Whereas, I saw the job as designing a complete stage setting, where every detail from A to Z was considered and harmonized to make a total picture that could only be done by letting one single artist create the color schemes in the first place. I simply could not give an inch on the question of color schemes. Everyone had admitted that I was a good colorist, and it would be like letting another artist put the finishing touches on one of my paintings in any old color he felt like. I tried to reason with the animators and explain how hard I was trying to make an overall color scheme that would work as a whole.”

Considering Merryweather

I’ve been considering the weather a lot lately, as have most of us in Los Angeles and all parts East. I’m particularly annoyed with all this rain, especially since I have been a small victim of the flood – not only did I have some damage in my home, but I actually got stuck in Topanga Canyon over the weekend unable to drive out due to road closures (and thus my lack of a post for Monday!).

While I was “away,” Amid put up his great note about Eyvind Earle which reminded me of watching the “Sleeping Beauty” Special Edition DVD release on New Year’s Day. Like many, I hadn’t really watched the whole movie since childhood so it was a real treat and a great way to ring in 2005.

Although Earle’s work sometimes, at least to me, overwhelms the viewer – hard to find the characters at some moments – it is really stunning. It also makes me wonder what he might have done with a digital palette. Would he have shunned the medium or embraced it?

More than Earle’s contribution though, I was taken with Ollie and Frank’s work on the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. My particular favorite is Merryweather for her pouts, moodiness and ability to come up with the right answer at the right time (for which she never gets credit). I think she’s one of the most charming and overlooked characters in animation and I really love what Ollie and Frank have to say about the creation of her character in “The Illusion of Life”:

“…Now we had to find the best way to play Merryweather against that character Flora. [They're talking here about Flora's ability to grasp the big concept of what was going on.] What if she had better ideas than Flora, especially in times of crisis? Then the frustration of having to do it Flora’s way would pay off. She could have a reason to argue with Flora, and this type of conflict would liven up their relationship. Also, maybe she is more impulsive and quick to act – more of a doer than the others but without an understanding of the big events around her. She would be interested in little things and how things looked and would volunteer to do the housework. We thought she would love to dance and to be happy and to express herself physically. Her feelings would be on the surface, and she would flare up in anger more readily than the others.”

Merryweather is a true expression of the weather and definitely how we feel when confronted with its many beauties and frustrations. More power to the legends Ollie and Frank for not only lending life to a particularly challenging trio, but for making each one so distinctive. For me the fairies, and Merryweather in particular, make this movie and remind me that there really is a lot of good in a little storm.