James Baxter is in business

This is exciting – a new animation studio specializing in hand-drawn animation started by one of the top animators of recent times. Back in December, I mentioned that DreamWorks/Disney animator James Baxter (Belle, Quasimodo, Rafiki, Spirit) was breaking free and starting up his own company. The studio, James Baxter Animation, is now open for business in Pasadena. Reports from people who attended the studio’s opening party have been posted at Seward Street and Animation Nation. Good luck, James.

CARTOON RECORD RARETIES

barnlabel.jpg

A friend of mine, record collector & music historian Michael Kieffer, sent me some scans of some animation related rareties in his archive – and I thought they were interesting enough to share. I’ve posted a new Cartoon Research page devoted to obscure record labels and sleeves. I’m not sure how far I’ll go with this, but here’s a look at some actual Cinephone and Vitaphone discs that were used in the original exhibition of our favorite cartoons of the early 30s, as well as several estoteric Disney record labels.Click on over to the Cartoon Research Record Page and have a look. Further contributions encouraged.

Song Cut From the Oscars

This story appeared in several papers today – but since subscription is required, we’ll post it complete below:

Cut From the Oscars: Cartoon Characters’ Sins
By DAVID M. HALBFINGERABC executives have forced Robin Williams to drop a comic song from the Oscars show that might well have proved one of the most political and racy numbers of the broadcast, despite the fact that the network and the show’s host, Chris Rock, have been promoting the night as anything but tame.Mr. Williams, the presenter of the Academy Award for best animated feature, decided last week that his one minute on stage would be a prime time to lampoon the conservative critic James C. Dobson, whose group Focus on the Family last month criticized the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants for appearing in a video about tolerance that the group called “pro-homosexual.”For a bit of material, Mr. Williams predictably turned to Marc Shaiman, the composer, whose oeuvre includes Oscar-night medleys for Billy Crystal and songs for shows like “Hairspray” and movies like “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut”.Overnight, Mr. Shaiman and his partner, Scott Wittman,dashed off a mock expose of the dark underbelly of cartoonland for Mr. Williams to deliver, over a gospel-music groove, as if he were a full-throated preacher inveighing against other newly-discovered sinners in the nation’s midst:”Pinocchio’s had his nose done! Sleeping Beauty is
popping pills!/ The Three Little Pigs ain’t kosher! Betty Boop works Beverly Hills!”The producer of the Oscars telecast, Gil Cates, urged Mr. Shaiman to make the bit “less political,” Mr. Shaiman said, so he quickly removed any reference to Mr. Dobson’s protests – and turned Mr. Williams into a fabulous, lisping character dishing up the latest juicy gossip:”Fred Flintstone is dyslexic, Jessica Rabbit is really a man, Olive Oyl is really anorexic, and Casper is in the Ku Klux Klan!” Officials from ABC’s broadcast standards and practices office were not pleased. On Thursday, they detailed their objections. Some lines were opposed for “sexual tone,” as the ABC officials, Susan Futterman and Olivia Cohen Cutler, put it to Mr. Williams, Mr. Shaiman and Mr. Cates. These lines included “Chip ‘n Dale are both strippers,” “Bugs Bunny’s a sexaholic,” and “Josie and the Pussycats dance on laps.”In the end, however, the sexual references would have been allowed, a network spokesman said. But they held the line on material that they believed might be seen as glorifying drug use or offending Native Americans or disabled people.Among other lines, they included “The Road Runner’s hooked on speed” and “Pocahontas is addicted to craps.”On Friday, faced with rewriting or killing as many as 11 lines out of a 36-line piece, Mr. Shaiman said, he and Mr. Wittman refused, and Mr. Williams had to look for new material.Mr. Williams, interviewed at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, said he was disappointed. “For a while you get mad, then you get over it,” he said. “They’re afraid of saying Olive Oyl is anorexic. It tells you about the state of humor. It’s strange to think: how afraid are you?” He added: “We thought that they got the irony of it. I guess not.”

Must-Read Brad Bird Interview

Mike Barrier has posted the full text of his interview with Brad Bird on his website MichaelBarrier.com and it’s a highly recommended read. Bird deserves much respect, not only for being an excellent filmmaker, but also for being one of the few industry heavyweights who’s not afraid to speak his mind. One topic he discusses is the Oscar’s flawed category for best animated feature, which is an award that I’ve had reservations about since its inception in 2001. Though well intentioned, it essentially ensures that great animated films like THE INCREDIBLES will never have the opportunity to compete with their live-action counterparts for the Best Picture Oscar. The argument carries a lot more weight coming from a filmmaker like Bird, who could have very easily pocketed a Best Picture nomination this year. Here’s what Bird says:

Bird: I think some voters who may truthfully believe that an animated film is one of the five best of the year may feel like if they nominate you for best animated film they’re off the hook. I certainly don’t want to be complaining – the film has been very well received, and to be nominated for four Oscars is wonderful. But you don’t have to look very deep to see that people treat animation differently. We went through the same thing on The Simpsons with the Emmy award for best comedy…But for a filmmaker who works in animation, when you work so hard to realize a moment, draw the audience in, and tell a story as well as you possibly can in a medium that’s very difficult to master – you feel like it’s the thirties and you’re in the Negro Leagues, or something. You may play some of the best ball, but you’re never going to get to the World Series.

Bird also addresses another one of my pet peeves – the co-director system that most studios employ in the production of animated features nowadays. I made brief note of this issue in a January 8 post, but Bird’s comments are even more pointed:

“…In many cases a studio will put two or three people together as co-directors who may not even like each other or respect each other’s work. It’s used as a way to diffuse power rather than coalesce a vision.”

Powerful words, spoken candidly.
Much props to Bird.
Read the full interview HERE.

GREAT TO BE NOMINATED – Part II

tulipsshallgrow.jpgTulips Shall GrowFor the last three years, you can usually find me and Marea on Monday nights hanging out at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Wilshire. Starting April 11th, we’ll be back for the rest of the year when Great To Be Nominated: Part Two begins. Each Monday at 7pm a feature film from each year (starting with 1940) which received the most nominations without winning the Best Picture Award will be screened, along with nominated animated and live action short subjects, original advertising trailers, out-takes, newsreels and other surprises to recreate an evening at the movies of that particular year.The very best prints available are screened at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, one of the finest screening facilities in the world. Bugs Bunny’s debut A WILD HARE (1940) will be screened with the first program (4/11); Fleischer’s initial SUPERMAN (1941) and Tex Avery’s debut SPEAKING OF ANIMALS short, DOWN ON THE FARM will screen the second week (4/18); and a Technicolor nitrate print of George Pal’s TULIPS SHALL GROW (1942) will accompany the third program (4/25). Seeing these prints in 35mm, at the best possible theatre in L.A., is worth the price of admission alone – and get this, the tickets are only $5. each show, or $30. for the entire series (18 weeks!). It’s the best bargain in town.
See you there.

CALVIN & THE COLONEL SCREENING

calvinbw.jpgA reminder that tomorrow afternoon (Saturday February 26th at 3pm) I am hosting an Asifa-Hollywood program devoted to the rarely-seen ABC primetime series CALVIN & THE COLONEL (1961).Though show was originally broadcast in black & white, we will screen several 16mm episodes of the series in color. Special guests from the cast & crew will attend and a Q & A after the screening will include voice actress June Foray and animators Phil Roman, John Sparey and Frank Andrina. The screening will take place on The American Film Institute campus, in the Ted Ashley-Warner Bros. Screening Room, at 2021 N. Westen Ave. in Hollywood, CA. Asifa members admitted FREE. General public admission price is $10.Here’s a nifty shot of the Milton Bradley Calvin & The Colonel board game.

MR. BUG GOES TO EBAY

hneybee.jpgMR. BUG GOES TO TOWN (1941), Max Fleischer’s second and arguably best animated feature film, is considered a classic by animation buffs – and completely forgotten today by the general public.Brew buddy Vince Waldron just spotted this item on ebay:

This curious item caught my eye on eBay. Looks to be an animators model for the Honey bee character in that film (or one of them, anyway.) What struck me as interesting is the little tag attached to it which would seem to indicate that this sort of thing was given away at the end of a production. Can you imagine the attention a similar Disney item would garner?

Holy Mackeral – an original maquette – and it’s signed by Dave Fleischer! Good luck to potential bidders on this item. If any Brew reader wins this baby let us know. We are already jealous!

Hack My Robots Book

Art of RobotsAmazon has enabled the “Search Inside This Book” feature on my recently published book, THE ART OF ROBOTS, and because a handful of names appear throughout the book, you can view most (if not all) of the book’s pages online. For example, type in “Bill Joyce” and over fifty pages turn up, and then see even more pages by using the ‘forward’ and ‘back’ buttons. Unfortunately, Amazon limits the number of pages you can view online (somewhere around forty), but it’s still a nice way of previewing the book before deciding whether or not to buy it.

JJ Villard Show in LA

Son of SatanRecent CalArts grad J.J. Villard is having his first LA solo exhibition at Cirrus Gallery (542 S. Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013). His Bukowski-inspired animated short SON OF SATAN is an incredibly raw and powerful work, and the exhibit will include drawings from that film, as well as new paintings and sculptures. The opening night reception is tomorrow, Feb. 26, from 5-8pm, and the show runs through April 9. See artwork from the show HERE.

Frédéric BACK

fredback.jpgThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will be holding it’s 9th Annual Marc Davis Lecture on Animation Wednesday March 23rd at 7:30pm at it’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on Wilshire Blvd.This year, the focus is on the work of Academy Award winner Frédéric Back, one of the world’s most honored animator-directors. Back earned his first Oscar with Crac! (1981), a chronicle of the changes the 20th century brought to life in rural Québec. Back followed Crac! with The Man Who Planted Trees, which won the Oscar in 1987. He spent more than five years on that film, with only a single assistant to help color the drawings.Back’s influence and work will be discussed by a panel of animators and historians including Pete Docter (Monsters Inc.), Production Designer Paul Felix (Lilo and Stitch and The Emperor’s New Groove), Glen Keane (Tarzan, Pocahontas), Bob Kurtz (owner of Kurtz and Friends animation studio, & creator of Cool Cat), and Charles Solomon (animation critic for The Los Angeles Times).Tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building, 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more program information, check oscars.org

Ottawa 05 Preview

The Ottawa International Animation Festival (September 21-25, 2005) has issued a call for entries for its 2005 edition. Entry forms are available at the FESTIVAL WEBSITE. The deadline is June 1 so there’s still plenty of time to enter. The competition categories are very similar to last year’s festival, but one particularly interesting twist is the creation of a Children’s Films competition that will be judged by a jury of local children. Festival director Chris Robinson explains the idea behind this category: “Every year there is controversy over the choices for Films and TV shows for Children. After the last Festival a posse of kids approached the OIAF organizers to complain about the ‘utter incompetence’ of the jury decisions. So this year, instead of just giving them a free t-shirt and sending them on their way, we decided to give the kids an opportunity to put their words into action.”

In addition to the competition and non-competitive Showcase screenings, OIAF 05 special screenings include Drawing in Pink: A Tribute to The Pink Panther (curated by Cartoon Brew’s very own Jerry Beck), The Best of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Animation, Slovak Animation, a retrospective of award winning Italian Animator, Guianluigi Toccafondo, and DIY: Canadian Independent Animation.

Here’s an exclusive preview of this year’s Ottawa poster, designed by Gary Panter:

Gary Panter Ottawa Poster

Bob Boyle’s Wubblog

Wubby, Widget and WaldenHere’s another production blog called THE WUBBLOG. Bob Boyle explains it all:

After seeing your post about the production blog of Nick Cross I thought I’d let you know about mine. While Nick is documenting the struggle of an independent filmmaker I will be documenting the challenges of developing and producing a show for a network. I’m starting production on a pre-school show (WUBBY, WIDGET AND WALDEN) that I created for Nick Jr. through Frederator, and I’m attempting to keep a journal of the process.

The blog is only a month old but there’s already tons of valuable info on it that will help anybody interested in creating their own animated TV series. Well worth a bookmark.

Blogging Persephone’s Production

Nick Cross, an incredibly talented Canadian artist who worked on REN & STIMPY: ADULT PARTY CARTOON, has started his own plog (or “production blog”) where he’s documenting the production of his 12-minute personal animated short THE WAIF OF PERSEPHONE. He’s been in production on the film for four years already and is well into the animation stage. Read his plog HERE and watch some of his earlier short films at his WEBSITE.

WAIF OF PERSEPHONE

Monday Morning Inspiration

Here’s a work by Bay Area animation veteran Charlie Canfield called HIDE & SEEK. Download it HERE (23mb). It’s a light minute-and-a-half short about a young wolf cub interacting with different forest animals, set to Chopin’s MINUTE WALTZ. ASIFA-San Francisco prez Karl Cohen, who sent me the link, described it as “charming,” and that’s a nice way of putting it. Though the technique is overtly digital, employing After Effects or some similar software, the film feels like cut-out animation because of the segmented parts used to construct the characters and minimal use of squash-and-stretch. It’s nicely designed and has its own distinctive aesthetic. Charming, indeed. See more of Canfield’s work at CharlieCanfield.com.

Charlie Canfield's Hide & Seek