Rare Earle on DVD

Christmas is over, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the following holiday-themed dvd: Ernie Ford’s THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS. It can be ordered HERE. The hour-long TV special from 1963 features an 18-minute segment designed and produced by SLEEPING BEAUTY background stylist Eyvind Earle. Earle wrote about the challenges of producing the piece (which primarily consists of camera moves over bgs and special fx) in his autobiography HORIZON BOUND ON A BICYCLE:

For many of the scenes showing the manger, Mary, the shepherds and the wise men, there was no time left to paint intricate overlays for my four-level multiplane camera setup which Chuck Arnold and I had built out of aluminum angle irons and four sheets of glass that moved under the camera.I ran outside and picked all the weeds I could find, and slung them on the glass sheets above Mary and the Christ child, and then tracked in with the camera, moving through a forest of overhanging branches created by the weeds. The effect was excellent and by some miracle I finished the whole product in time to be aired on NBC two separate times before Christmas.
(Thanks to Ken Hettig for the heads up on the dvd)

Z is for Zagreb

At the fwak blog, Lili and Eddie write about some early Zagreb cartoons they recently saw: “If Disney’s objective was to create the ‘Illusion Of Life’, then the Zagreb school wasn’t under any illusions. Zagreb characters behave like drawings, and as a result create their own kind of life.” It’s an incredible shame that the vast majority of the studio’s output from the ’50s and ’60s (Zagreb’s golden age) isn’t available on video/dvd.

MORE OSWALD

avatar3.jpgCartoon Brew’s own correspondent in Japan, Bill Schacht, writes in with this update:

The Oswald merchandise previously posted on your site is available only inside “UFO Catcher” games, not regular retail outlets. They are being made by a company called Taito as fodder for their game centers (prizes for their crane games – about $1 a try). Taito is introducing new products each month. The watches were premiums for the machines last September.

Bill sent more toy and doll images – and I’ve started to collect them on this dedicated webpage.

Early thoughts on Open Season

Sony Imageworks’s first feature OPEN SEASON already has one major strike against it: three co-directors. In my opinion, great animated features have a strong singular vision (Brad Bird, Henry Selick, Sylvain Chomet), not the diluted ideas of multiple individuals. Films with co-directors have rarely worked in live-action (the exception being works by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), and if the studio animated features from the past decade are any indication, it’s a similarly ineffective system for producing quality cartoon films.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to have hope for Sony’s foray into feature animation. First, the film’s teaser poster is actually appealing. Obviously, it’s not final production art, but it seems to indicate that Sony is headed more in Pixar’s direction than DreamWorks/PDI’s, which is to say they’re making a film that actually takes advantage of the animated medium and not simply producing a live-action feature in CG guise. The film is based on ideas by syndicated cartoonist Steve Moore (IN THE BLEACHERS) which also points towards a more animated approach. Another reason to hope is that, despite my reservations about the co-director system, the film’s directors are actually quite talented. Ethan Hurd writes on his blog about why he left PDI to join the OPEN SEASON crew, and it’s primarily because of his faith in one of the film’s co-directors, Jill Culton, who worked on story for TOY STORY 2 and MONSTERS INC. The other co-directors are THE LION KING’s Roger Allers and Tony Stacchi, who has a lot of great projects on his resume and must be cool because he just started his own blog HERE. Jamie Baker mentions on his BLOG that Carter Goodrich and COW & CHICKEN’s Dave Feiss are also involved in OPEN SEASON. The film is currently slated for ’06 release.

A happy ending

Manohla Dargis put it best in THE NEW YORK TIMES when she called it, “The best bit of animation to originate in a DreamWorks film yet.” She was referring to the terrific end credit sequence for LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, which you can watch for free at IFILM — without having to endure the two hours of junk preceding it. Stylistically, the work reminds me a bit of Lane Smith and a bit of Lotte Reiniger, but with a completely original overriding vision. There were three artists responsible for the sequence: Benjamin Goldman, Todd Hemker and Jamie Caliri. I don’t know much about any of them, but Hemker had a FILM at last year’s Annecy Film Festival (which I somehow missed) and Ben Goldman has a WEBSITE with more examples of his work. Here’s to hoping we’ll see more inspired work from these guys.
(Thanks to Gérald Guerlais for some of the links)

MOUSE ANGER

mickeysplat.jpgUnderground filmmaker and historian (“Hollywood Babylon”) Kenneth Anger has made a new experimental short, MOUSE HEAVEN, “reflecting on the iconic power of Mickey Mouse and commenting on the cultural and sentimental value placed on commercial merchandise.”The film, focusing on mechanical Disney toys made in pre-Hitler Germany, was originally bankrolled by Paul Getty (grandson of oil magnate J. Paul Getty). According to Anger:

“It’s a study of animated toys of a rare nature. These are collectables of early Walt Disney toys. I’ve always loved Mickey Mouse since I was a little boy and I’m outraged about the current Disney company’s attitude to Mickey Mouse. I mean they think they own it but all the children of the world own Mickey Mouse. And I have devised a way to star Mickey Mouse in a film that the current Disney company can’t legally object to, by filming an antique toy collection of early Disney toys. And it’s just a coincidence all those toys happen to be Mickey Mouse. I’m actually being very respectful of early Mickey Mouse. I hate later Mickey Mouse, because from “Fantasia” on the Disney people decided to humanize the mouse, remove his tail- which is a kind of castration- and turn him into a little boy who is a sort of a goody-two-shoes. And he’s no longer the mischievous, sadistic mouse that he was in the beginning. He used to do nasty little tricks like twist the udders of cows and things like that. And that’s the only mouse I’m interested in, I mean this kind of demon ‘fetish’ figure.”

It screens Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 8:15 PM (with Anger in person introducing the film with three other shorts) at The Museum of Modern Art, Theatre 1, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY.

OSWALD MANIA IN JAPAN

oswaldjapan.jpgWhat is the deal with all this Oswald Rabbit merchandise is Japan?We reported on this phenomenon in an earlier post and David Gerstein has now sent me this link showing a whole line of Lucky Rabbit products. I really like the black & white Oswald watch pictured. If any one can get me one of those, let me know.Maybe, if we’re lucky, some clueless Hollywood executive, sensing Oswald is the next new anime fad, will start importing these toys and creating new Oswald Rabbit animation… or maybe Universal will release a “perfect collection” of 1930s Oswald cartoons on dvd.

May and the Kitten Bus

littenbus2.jpgLast month I got to visit one of my dream destinations – The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan. There on business, I was treated to a vip tour before the crowds descended on the wonderland-type venue for the day. Although I have more to write about this spectacular public offering designed by Miyazaki himself, I wanted to open with a note about “May and the Kitten Bus,” one of the shorts Studio Ghibli has produced for exclusive screening at the museum. (In other words, this one won’t be out on DVD or showing in the States anytime soon.) As a huge, huge (did I say HUGE), Miyazaki fan and a great lover of “My Neighbor Totoro,” I almost cried when I found out there was a new short, AND, showing in a theater like no other. The Saturn Theater is located in the basement of the museum and only has eighty seats. The museum brochure describes it like this: “A blue sky and lots of colorful flowers are drawn on the ceiling and walls. When the film ends, the windows open and the sunshine comes in.””May and the Kitten Bus” is certainly about sunshine, but it is also about the magic of the forest at night, when all the Cat Buses and Totoros come out and go, well…wherever it is they go to create whatever it is they create – which I think is just a belief in the power of imagination and nature itself. (No Spoilers Here.) In the opening scene little May from the original movie is out and about in the forest, opening a caramel candy wrapper. A little wind immediately winds up and rushes around her, turning into a little Kitten Bus who wants some sweets. May, of course, obliges and thus begins a friendship that includes a journey to a nighttime meeting of forest creatures. As is her way, May makes friends with even the most unlikely of characters through her charm and generous desire to share her good tasting treats.I hope all of you can see this special short some time. In future posts I’ll tell you how to get into the museum. It’s not like most venues; you can’t just show up. Although tickets are booked months in advance, obtaining entry is possible through certain websites and tour groups. I’ve done a pretty pathetic scan of the hang-tag off my Kitten Bus plush, but at least it gives you an idea of the artwork from the film.

Animation Resolutions

Greetings Brew Readers,

I’m really honored to be joining Cartoon Brew and the likes of Jerry and Amid for the month of January. (The guys are definitely my cartoon historian heroes.) I gotta tell ya, as much as I loved working at Animation Magazine, it’s really nice to have the opportunity to jabber on about what’s on my mind – an outlet no trade publication can really provide. For instance, when I was avoiding my yearly resolutions – things like “get my taxes done early,” “exercise more,” “blah, blah, blah” – I started daydreaming about my animation resolutions instead. Although I don’t think these vital, yet rather dizzy resolutions would make breaking news on any of our industry’s animation sites, they make me happy so I thought I’d share.

In 2005 I Resolve To, (In A Very Animated Way):

1) Watch or re-watch ALL the Fleischer Popeye cartoons. (If you’d like to join me, you can find the Fleischer Popeye filmography in Leslie Cabarga’s fantastic book “The Fleischer Story” (Decapo Press).

2) This one is a little embarrassing cause it’s a horrible thing not to have done, but I resolve to read all of Mike Barrier’s “Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation In Its Golden Age” (Oxford University Press). Like the religious text, I’ve only dipped into sections of this bible when I needed proof that an animation god did exist. Although I do suggest the random flipping approach – You know, picking up the tome and just thumbing through to see how a particular page or paragraph speaks to your life… in fact… let me do that now. I’m now holding the book and flipping and I’ve landed on page 181…and, of course… “Fleischer cartoons were full of such arbitrary movement; the characters moved constantly, as did their settings…” …which I think makes them grand… Anyway, that speaks to me. BUT one should read a book from cover to cover in order to truly GET it. So, in 2005, I resolve to GET “Hollywood Cartoons.”

3) Listen to Walt Kelly music CDs at least once a week – especially during this rainy season – a proven pick-up.

4) Finally save up for, find and purchase the really big Iron Giant toy – still in the box.

5) Fully indulge all of my Totoro plush and figurine collecting fantasies.

6) Re-read “The Illusion of Life,” and not just because Jeffrey Katzenberg does so every year. Jeffrey, do you really do that?

7) Launch a worldwide campaign for the creation of a new series of 2D shorts featuring Krazy Kat that would air during all primetime news programs. That would work…right?

8) In an effort to create world peace, launch a second worldwide campaign with the catch phrase “Just A Cartoon A Day: That’s All We Ask.” That would work…right?

9) Become really good friends with Mark Kausler so I can weasel my way into watching films from his amazing cartoon collection. I plan to do this by letting my rabid fan free, praising him hugely for “It’s The Cat!” his extremely cartoony and marvelous short that better darn well make the nominee list from the Academy.

10) Be really nice to Amid and Jerry so they don’t kick me off before I serve my whole month. Wait, I have to do this everyday? Doah!

As usual, one should always carefully think through his or her resolutions before setting them in digital stone… They always come back to bite you!

MODERN ARF

modernarf.jpgOur pal Craig Yoe informs us of his cool new book Modern Arf, coming out in March:

There’s a big feature on early animation pioneer Hy Mayer. It doesn’t focus on his animation so much but on his amazing almost M.C. Escher type print cartoons unseen for over 100 years. And there’s stuff by Crumb, Rick Griffin, Jimmy Hatlo, Patrick McDonnell, George Cruickshank, Russell Patterson, Milt Gross, Dan DeCarlo, Jack Kirby, etc. The book’s all about wacky cartoonists and the “Unholy Marriage Between Comics and Art”.

Check out Yoe’s website for a preview of several pages. It looks very good to me! Arf!

New Year, New Guest Brewer

After a terrific run by Harry McCracken, we’re excited to introduce our first Guest Brewer of 2005: Rita Street. Many of you know her from her recent stint as publisher of ANIMATION MAGAZINE where she waged a valiant effort to make the magazine more readable and relevant to today’s industry. She recently started up her own company, Radar Cartoons. Here’s a bit more about her:

Rita Street is the managing director of Radar Cartoons, a boutique consultancy firm focusing on the needs of international animation studios, helping develop and sell her client’s original content onto American networks. Rita is also the out-of-house entertainment producer for the Los Angeles-based design house Mighty Fine (creators of Ruby Gloom and French Kitty) and the co-producer of “The Nicktoons Film Festival” with Frederator Studios for the Nicktoons cable channel.

Before opening Radar, Rita worked as a publisher, editor and journalist focusing on the industry of animation. She has served as the publisher of ANIMATION MAGAZINE, the editor of FILM & VIDEO MAGAZINE and has also authored several books on graphic arts including COMPUTER ANIMATION: A WHOLE NEW WORLD (Rockport). For the Art Institute of Pittsburgh she serves as a program advisory committee member for Game Art & Design. She has also served on several prestigious juries, most notably Austria’s Prix Ars Electronica competition for excellence in computer animation and visual effects.

Rita is the founder of the international non-profit organization, Women In Animation and a board member of ASIFA-Hollywood.

JANET KLEIN TIME!

janet.jpgThursday night I’m once again showing several musical shorts (and cartoons) at the Steve Allen Theatre in Los Feliz. This is my monthly 16mm film program, as opening act, for the fabulous Janet Klein and her Parlour Boys who perform the first Thursday of each month at this location, at 8pm. Janet sings and plays 1920s jazz – she’s hot stuff, and the band ain’t bad either. This month I’ll be showing DIZZY DISHES (1930), a Screen Song, and several other surprises! Join us!

My New Year’s Resolution

I have only one New Year’s resolution and that is to finish ANIMATION BLAST #9. I’ve been immensely frustrated with my inability to deliver this issue to the printer and I could never have imagined that it would fall so far behind schedule. One would think that with eight issues under my belt, it wouldn’t be such a monumentally difficult task finishing a ninth. Alas, it has been, and for an incredible variety of reasons which I won’t even begin to list here. However I’m determined to get this issue done soon and a new date has been posted on the BLAST website. I want to sincerely thank all readers of the magazine for their patience; hopefully the issue will be worth the wait. Also in the works for ’05 is a complete relaunch of the ANIMATION BLAST website. More on that in a bit.

Goodbye and Hello

This is my final post as a guest blogger here. I had a blast over the past two months, and would like to thank Jerry and Amid for the opportunity–as well as the many Brew readers who gave me feedback.

I enjoyed myself so much that I decided I wanted to keep on blogging about animation and related matters, such as comic strips. So I will–over at my own site, Harry-Go-Round. I’ve redesigned my home page into a bloggier place, and have posted my first item–a look at the newish FRACTURED FLICKERS box set. My Harry-Go-Round blog lets visitors leave comments, and my site still has its own MessageCenter. So I’d love to keep the conversation I had with Brew readers going.

See you there, I hope!

Return of “Return to Tendlar”

tendlar.jpg

I’ve been remiss about following up on my November post about a piece of original art I bought marked “Return to Dave Tendlar.” I asked Brew readers if they knew what cartoon the sketch, apparently once owned by the famous New York animation, was from.

I got lots of guesses–most of which mentioned FANTASIA or Preston Blair’s how-to books. But Dave Mackey had a more specific, logical answer:

“I believe the artwork you posted on the Cartoon Brew web site is from the first
Popeye cartoon Tendlar worked on at the new Famous Studios, ALONA ON THE SARONG SEAS. In that film, Popeye meets up with the character you see here. He eventually takes his spinach and knocks the alligator into a nice set of luggage.”

I haven’t seen that cartoon, but thanks, Dave!

Meanwhile, just to confuse matters, Brew reader Kevin Koch reports that he too bought a piece of art stamped “Return to Dave Tendlar” many years ago. His was a drawing of…Donald Duck. Did Dave (Tendlar, not Mackey) spent a forgotten stint at Disney? Or did he acquire the Donald drawing for reasons lost to time? The mystery continues….

2004: The year of the animation blog

When Lili Chin and Eddie Mort posted an item on their fwak blog last September about the forthcoming upgrade of Macromedia Flash, it generated dozens of comments from other industry Flash animators about features they wanted to see included in the new version. A representative from Macromedia was copiously taking notes and the company’s software developers have been incorporating the feedback from that post into the next version of Flash. This is but one example of the effectiveness of animation blogs and the potential they have to create a positive impact on the animation community.

Last year saw not only the arrival of numerous new animation blogs, but also the roots of a community forming, which ensures the diverse voices on these blogs will be heard by a significant audience. These blogs are more than simply an attempt to collect and catalog news a la Animation World Network or ANIMATION MAGAZINE. Animation blogs are forums for rational discussion and thoughtful idea exchange, created by dedicated individuals working in and around the industry. They aren’t dragged down by the repetitive obnoxious griping that is a common feature of certain animation message boards. Animation blogs have also pushed beyond the stale mainstream media stories about animation like “Is 2D animation dead?” and “Why do so many celebrities watch SPONGEBOB?”; we have formed a custom, organically evolving media that is suited to the needs of this industry and art form.

The animation blogging community, while still in its infancy, expanded significantly in 2004. Mike Barrier started publishing his thoughts about animation regularly for the first time since the days of his groundbreaking magazine FUNNYWORLD. At AniPages Daily, Ben Ettinger shares views about Japanese animation that reach beyond the fanboy-ish tendencies of most anime discourse. The crew of Nick’s MY LIFE AS A TEEN-AGE ROBOT launched a blog of their own to communicate directly with the show’s fans and allow the average viewer a glimpse into the show’s production process. Artists like Ethan Hurd, Ronnie del Carmen, Enrico Casarosa and Jim Hull presented insights into their work techniques, tools of the trade and artistic inspirations. Ward Jenkins went a step further and fixed THE POLAR EXPRESS, elevating the discussion of how to improve modern animation to an entirely unprecedented level. This very site, Cartoon Brew, launched last March, and while I find it difficult to make any objective assessment of what (if anything) we accomplished, the fact that our readership has far eclipsed the combined readerships of our pre-Brew sites, Cartoon Research and Animation Blast, leads me to believe that we’re doing something right.

So who will create the next animation blog? In what directions will the community evolve? What can we do to push this art form to the next level? 2005 holds the answers and I can’t wait to find out.

Seen Any Good Tsunamis Lately?

Mother Nature’s new annual holiday tradition? Hopefully not. Almost exactly a year after the Bam earthquake in Iran that killed over 25,000 people came the recent earthquake/tsunami combo in southeast Asia. We’ll be talking cartoons the rest of the year here on Cartoon Brew, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the victims of the quake and encourage Brew readers to send them some help. There are plenty of organizations that can use your support right now; my personal choice is Mercy Corps. They’re a lean and effective aid group based out of Portland, Oregon that allocates 91% of donations directly towards aiding those in need (a higher percentage than most other relief organizations). They also post regular updates on their site of what they’re specifically doing in each country to help the victims.

And now that we’re done helping people, we can spend the rest of the year mocking Michael Eisner’s incompetence.