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.
The next time someone chides you for collecting stuff, send them to this website.Scroll down to see this guy’s impressive “Cartoon Figures Collection” (near the bottom of this long-loading page). And you call yourself a collector?
Animator 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.
THE ART OF ROBOTS is now shipping at Amazon.com. It’s not like Fox is paying me any royalties on the book so if you buy it through this LINK, at least Amazon will toss a few pennies my way. Bonus points if you geek out completely and buy it with THIS and THIS.
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.
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.”
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”:
“â€¦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.
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)
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.
Here’s a WEBSITE with a lot of nice film clips of Eastern European stop motion animation by the likes of Starevitch, Zeman and Trnka. It’ll either inspire you or put you to sleep. Or maybe it’ll inspire you to sleep. In any case, it’s worth a click.
Cartoon 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.
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.
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)
Underground 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.
What 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.