Pixar and Disney Sitting in a Tree…

Disney and Pixar

It’s beginning to look official. Britain’s TELEGRAPH is reporting today that Pixar’s board will meet on Monday to approve Disney’s $7 billion takeover bid. The deal would make Steve Jobs the single largest Disney shareholder. It’s a little too early to begin discussing the implications of what all this means, but this is truly as massive a shakeup in the animation world as could be imagined. At this point, it’s easy to see it going either way: either Lasseter and company will shine their creative light upon Disney helping to revitalize the Mouse’s slumbering animation division or Disney’s corporate bureaucracy will drag down Pixar with it and we’ll enter a new era of films like THE INCREDIBLES MEET WOODY AND BUZZ. One thing is for certain: there’s going to be a hell of a lot to talk about on the Brew here in 2006.

A Response to Hoodwinked’s Director

HOODWINKED writer/director Cory Edwards recently defended criticism of his film on Animation Nation. The primary purpose of Edwards’ post is he would like everybody to believe that the reason HOODWINKED looks the way it does is because of the film’s meager production budget combined with the inexperience of his Philippines production crew.

I initially wrote a lengthy response addressing his comments, but afterwards realized that my thoughts could basically be summed up in two brief ideas:

1.) The budget of HOODWINKED was not the primary barrier to its low artistic quality. Sylvain Chomet’s THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE was produced for a slight $8 million and Masaaki Yuasa’s recent masterpiece MIND GAME was produced for a similarly low figure. My favorite Bill Plympton feature, HAIR HIGH, was produced for well under $1 million. These films, however, were created by artists who understood the medium of animation and who wanted to exploit the unique possibilities inherent within the medium; the films were also created by artists who understood their budget going into the production, and the possibilities and limitations of what such a budget presented. If anything, a small budget can be a blessing that allows filmmakers the freedom to take creative risks that would not be possible on a big budget feature. But HOODWINKED lacks any such artistic motivation. The only vision behind this film, as far as one can tell from the finished results, is a shrewd opportunity to capitalize on the fairytale-skewering success of the SHREK franchise. The production was clearly set up to create a lame CG knockoff of SHREK, and not to create a distinctive animated film appropriate to the budget, like TRIPLETS, MIND GAME or HAIR HIGH.

2.) Edwards argues that the film wasn’t made by executives, but by struggling filmmakers. Yet, in true executive fashion, he blames the artists for the film’s shortcomings: “I KNOW the animation could be better! The film was made with the skill levels we had at the studio we could afford,” he says. Real artists don’t blame the other hard-working artists on their crew for their film’s shortcomings. In fact, the visual deficiencies of HOODWINKED originated long before the overseas studio ever got its hands on the film. In the latest issue of ANIMATION MAGAZINE, there are hand-drawn model sheets from the film, and the model sheets are as poorly designed as the CG characters in the film are modeled. In other words, the skill levels of the overseas artists seem to have been fine, and they did a good job of translating the designs to CG, but the artwork they had was weak to begin with. Similarly, the quality of animation was likely the result of the direction the overseas artists were receiving rather than their own doing. It’s disingenuous to blame the overseas production crew for problems that could have been addressed in pre-production if the filmmakers had had a more solid grasp of the animation medium.

Edwards says that the only way he can create something of artistic value is for somebody to give him more money. “If I direct more animation, my first choice will always be to make it in the U.S. and for a much bigger budget.” Perhaps first he could explain though why HOODWINKED looks the way it does when he already had a more than adequate budget to create a quality piece of animation.

Ovi Nedelcu’s DESENE

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Animation character designer and PIGTALE comic creator Ovi Nedelcu has just released a new book of his drawings and designs called DESENE: SKETCHES & SCRIBBLES. The full-color hardcover book is 104 pages and has a foreword by director Henry Selick. I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’ve always enjoyed Ovi’s work and I’m sure there’s solid work throughout. There’s a 10-page preview of the book HERE and it can be ordered at Amazon.com. Ovi will also be doing a signing in LA next Saturday, January 28, at Meltdown Comics from 6-8pm.

Norm McCabe (1911-2006)

Norm McCabe

Animator/director Norman McCabe passed away last Wednesday at age 94. McCabe had a long and impressive career in animation from animating on Clampett’s PORKY IN WACKYLAND (1938) to directing TV commercials in the 1950s at Swift Productions and TELE-mation to animating on the first Pink Panther short PINK PHINK (1964) to sheet timing on ANIMANIACS and FREAKAZOID. Between 1934 and 1999, McCabe worked at Schlesinger’s, Warner Bros., US Army Air Corps Training Film Unit, MGM, Swift Productions, Five Star Productions, Telemation, Pacific Title, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, DePatie-Freleng, Ruby-Spears, Filmfair, Marvel and Universal. Services will be held on Tuesday, January 24 at 10am at the Shadow Hills Presbyterian Church (10158 Johanna Ave., Sunland, CA 91040). Here are McCabe’s credits at IMDB and here’s a nice little write-up about Norm at Jaime Weinman’s blog.

UPDATE: Mark Evanier has posted some additional thoughts about McCabe on his blog NewsFromME.

CARTOONS ON EARLY TV

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Film buff John McElwee has started a blog, Greenbriar Picture Shows, devoted to his love of old movies. His comments are witty and he illustrates each entry with amazing photos, ad clippings and rare material from his extensive archive. In the last two days he has posted some observations on watching cartoons on TV in the 50s and 60s – illustrated with pages from a rare A.A.P. sales brochure. His first post is about seeing cartoons at the local movie house, his second post is about theatrical cartoons on TV.UPDATE: A third post about the end of theatrical cartoons and serials features some great trade ads from 1957.

CARTOON BREW FILM OF THE WEEK: CLIKCLAK

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For the third week in a row, our film of the week hails from France. Very much an unintended coincidence and we’ll certainly start highlighting films from other countries in the coming weeks. This week’s entry, CLIKCLAK is an excellent new student work from France directed by Aurélie Frechinos, Thomas Wagner and Victor-Emmanuel Moulin. A hi-res English version of the film can be found HERE. Like last week’s film TIM TOM, CLIKCLAK was made at the CG school Supinfocom.

For a computer animated short, CLIKCLAK shows a lot of visual restraint. The two robot characters have no color except for their bright blue and green eyes, and this spare use of color is further accentuated by the film’s plain greyscale backgrounds. The characters communicate not with spoken words, but rather with written words that flash across the screen. The written text is well integrated into the film, and serves as a unique visual element that complements the action, such as when the chandelier shakes or when the robots move up and down on the seesaw. Sound efx are also well designed and add a lot to the mood. Screenhead notes that the opening of CLIKCLAK may be a Rube Goldberg-esque nod to the recent Honda ad “Cog”.

CLASSIC DISNEY SHORTS ON IPOD

Yesterday, Amid and I joined Roy Disney, Don Hahn, David Stainton, Leonard Maltin and several others at a preview screening of a wonderful new Disney short, THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL, based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story. We’ll discuss the film in a forthcoming post… but while there we heard some news we hadn’t read elsewhere: Starting this summer, Disney will be making all its Oscar-winning (and Oscar-nominated) shorts available on iTunes – for Internet downloading to iPods and the like. Yes, Der Fuehrer’s Face will be available to carry around in your hand – along with The Three Little Pigs and Destino. The films willl be released in waves and not all at the same time. In the summer, a DVD boxed set will be released with the same content. This is great news. It’ll be fun to have It’s Tough To Be a Bird on my iPod.

LADY & THE TRAMP

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Disney recently restored its CinemaScope materials on LADY & THE TRAMP (1955) for a forthcoming DVD release. But to experience the film in its full glory, I highly recommend a trip to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood February 2nd through the 14th (Valentine’s Day) where they will showcase this latest restoration on the widescreen. On Thursday night February 2nd, a special panel will convene before the screening to discuss the picture. Andreas Deja and Stan Freberg will be among the panelists.

HOOD VS. EVIL

The erosion of the animated feature continues. The Weinstein Co. and Kanbar Entertainment said Tuesday that they’ll team up on a sequel to their current CG-animated release Hoodwinked.From today’s Daily Variety:

Pic — the Weinstein Co.’s first animated venture, budgeted at less than $20 million — overcame lukewarm reviews to grab $16.9 million at the box office in its debut frame. Harvey Weinstein said that this time around, the pic’s producers will double the budget to improve animation, and that he spoke to the pic’s lead, Anne Hathaway, about returning while at the Golden Globes over the weekend.”Our whole marketing team rose to the occasion,” said Harvey Weinstein about “Hoodwinked’s” perf. “For every rave, there was someone saying that the animation isn’t as great as Pixar, but the movie is funny and fun for kids and adults. We never would have been able to do this at Disney.”New installment, dubbed “Hood Vs. Evil”, will find a teen Red training in a distant land with a mysterious, covert group called Sisters of the Hood. She is then called upon by Nicky Flippers — head of the Happily Ever After Agency — who teams her with the Wolf to investigate the disappearance of Hansel and Gretel.

Happy 77th Birthday, Popeye

Popeye by Tom  Neely

Above is a fun painting by Brew pal Tom Neely celebrating Popeye’s 77th birthday today. Popeye first appeared as a character in the January 17, 1929 installment of the THIMBLE THEATRE comic strip by Elzie Segar. Despite the character’s enduring popularity, the bulk of the Popeye cartoons have never been released on any home video format. Here’s a PETITION you can sign to help bring the black-and-white Popeyes to dvd. And here’s an ARTICLE about Popeye’s birthday.

THE WHITE COUNTESS

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NY-based studio Asterisk recently completed a thirty-five second piece for the Merchant Ivory film THE WHITE COUNTESS. The animation was created in an authentic Chinese brushwork style. It was produced and directed by Richard O’Connor and Brian O’Connell, designed by Handong Quan, and animated by Doug Compton, Ed Smith and Winnie Tom. The two images in this post are concept pieces from the production. I haven’t seen the finished animation, but Richard tells me that the production art doesn’t stray too far from this original vision.

White Countess

ANNIE AWARDS

Asifa-Hollywood’s 33rd annual ANNIE AWARDS event is coming up on Saturday February 4th. Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants) will be hosting the proceedings and this year he will be joined by William Shatner (Over the Hedge), Jason Alexander (Duckman), Craig T. Nelson (The Incredibles), Brad Bird (The Iron Giant), Nick Park (creator and director of Wallace & Gromit), Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) and Lee Unkrich (Pixar), among the presenters.Winsor McCay Awards for lifetime achievement will be presented to Cornelius Cole, Tyrus Wong and Fred Crippen. The festivities begin at 3 pm at the Alex Theatre in Glendale; the awards ceremony starts at 5 pm and a post event celebration immediately follows at Milano’s Cucina Italiana (525 N. Brand Blvd.). Tickets for the Annie Awards are available to the public as space permits at $75 per person (tickets include both pre- and post-receptions). Contact the Alex Theatre Box office, at (818) 243-2539, for tickets. For more event information, visit annieawards.com

DreamWorks Bloggers

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There’s something I don’t understand, and probably never will understand, about DreamWorks Animation. With so many incredibly talented artists working under one roof, how can the studio’s films be so visually dull and devoid of artistic ambition? If these guys can create art, why does Katzenberg insist on hiding it beneath over-rendered fur and realistic grass textures, and marring their work with incompetent celebrity voices, fart jokes and every storytelling cliche in the book. While I’ve yet to enjoy a DreamWorks animated film, I’m certainly enjoying all these new blogs by the studio’s artists…and at the same time wondering how the hell a film that looks like THIS could be made by such an amazing group of individuals.

Patrick MateInsert Name Here: A group blog comprised of four DreamWorks animators (Fabio Lignini, Arnaud Berthier, Jakob Jensen, Simon Otto) and one animator at Sony Imageworks, Luis GraneGabriele PennacchioliAlessandro Carloni

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LOCO ROCO

LOCO ROCO

Video game animation isn’t a frequent topic of discussion on the Brew, but LOCO ROCO, an upcoming Sony PSP game from Japan, recently caught my attention. The character designs are simple and sans outlines, in that supercute style that Japanese designers do so well. The backgrounds strive for a similarly fresh approach, and use crisp appealing shapes with creative color styling. Overall, the design and animation of LOCO ROCO easily matches the standard of most of today’s animated TV shows. Just take a look at this video demo. The entire gameplay, and not just the cut scenes, look like a TV series done in Flash or something. I’m not sure what, if anything, this means for the industry, but with the technology finally at a point where videogames (2D ones at least) can look this good, one hopes that game developers will begin to take greater advantage of the possibilities to produce creatively designed and well animated games.

Eldon Dedini (1921-2006)

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A legendary magazine cartoonist with an inimitable style, Eldon Dedini, passed away last Thursday from esophageal cancer. His work, including many beautiful watercolor cartoons, appeared primarily in PLAYBOY, THE NEW YORKER and ESQUIRE. Prior to animation, he worked at Disney as a storyboard artist in the 1940s, both on their shorts and the package features like FUN AND FANCY FREE (1947). Here’s a nicely written obit from his hometown paper, the Monterey County Herald. Also, a major collection of his work is being published this summer by Fantagraphics. The image at top is a page from a 1967 Volkswagen promotional book, hence the Volks-themed cartoon.

Why I Like Animation

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People ask me on occasion why I like animation. It’s a difficult question to answer, and one that I’ve rarely (if ever) answered to my own satisfaction. To me, art is something as natural and necessary as breathing or eating. Why wouldn’t I like animation would seem to be a more appropriate question. Well, I may have finally found a better answer.

Tonight, at ASIFA-Hollywood’s “Evening with John Canemaker” event, John screened six classic animated shorts that he finds inspiring for one reason or another. Put together, these six films are the perfect explanation for why I like (love?) cartoons. Animation, at its best, is a visual medium unlike any other, one that is filled with limitless creative possibilities, and these films illustrate the point more vividly and efficiently than anything I could ever say. So the next time somebody asks me why I enjoy animation, I’ll just give them a list of the following films:

The Fleischer short MYSTERIOUS MOSE (1930)
The Disney short THE BAND CONCERT (1935)
FOX HUNT – Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin (1936)
FLAT HATTING – John Hubley (1946)
FREE RADICALS – Len Lye (1957)
THE TEMPEST (scenes from an unfinished film) – George Dunning (ca. mid-1970s)

(Image courtesy of Cartoon Retro)

CARTOON BREW FILM OF THE WEEK: TIM TOM

TIM TOM

I first saw this film back at SIGGRAPH 2003 so it’s not exactly new. But the film has stuck with me, and it holds up quite well. Now that it’s online, I have to point it out. TIM TOM is a graduate film by Romain Segaud and Christel Pougeoise, produced at the French animation school SupInfoCom.

There’s all sorts of nods to old school animation techniques in this film — from the opening titles (in the form of a thaumatrope) to the flipbook facial expressions to the characters interacting with strips of film. But the biggest nod to old school techniques is the quality of the character animation itself. Computer animated characters, especially those in student films, rarely move like this…with such distinctive and individual styles of movement, with such snappy timing, with such expressive overlapping action. But much to the credit of the two filmmakers, the characters in TIM TOM are alive in the way that the best animated characters should be.

Here’s some production info in the words of one of the filmmakers, Christel Pougeoise:

We met at SupInfoCom, one of the top animation schools in France with an emphasis on teaching CGI animation. There we collaborated on a five minute animated film that took 16 months to create. The simple scenario features two animated characters trying to meet against the wishes of a giant omnipotent human hand. There is no dialogue but the thoughts and expressions of the protagonists are written on their notepad faces. Using Maya, Photoshop, and After Effects, the 3D computer animation is made to look like realistic puppets made of clay and paper. It’s a reference to old stop-motion films. We also chose a 40s jazz soundtrack (Django Reinhardt) and a black and white image to provide the film overall with the aesthetics of the classic films of Méliès, Trinka, Dudok de Wit, and Svankmayer. Romain came up with the original idea and I liked it so much I decided to work with him. During the third year, we worked on the screenplay and storyboards and during the last year we modeled the characters, animated them, rendered the movie with computers, added the sound, and then transferred it all to 35mm film. Tim Tom has played at several festivals in Europe and US, has received the LEAF award in London and the prix de la SCAM in France.

Plympton vs. Gondry vs. Jittlov

Forget the whole Plympton vs. Gondry flap on the Kanye West video. Today, it’s Michel Gondry vs. Mike Jittlov. I received an email from an artist yesterday (who prefers to remain anonymous) complaining that the Gondry video for West isn’t all that original. He wrote, “I just thought it was worth pointing that Gondry’s video (colors and all) is a huge homage/rip of Mike Jittlov’s amazing short film ‘Swing Shift,’ and is a very poor imitation at that. Not that I’m not a Gondry fan, because I am, but considering the source, it’s not one of his better efforts.”

Mike Jittlov, for those that aren’t familiar, is a legend of the LA indie animation scene. I’m familiar with his pixelation work, particularly THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME, but I’d never seen SWING SHIFT. That is, until last night, because I found online a late-70s showreel of Jittlov’s work, thanks to blog of Pixar’s Jeff Pidgeon. There’s a clip from SWING SHIFT about 1/3 of the way into the reel where you can find, what else, clothes and other objects dancing after-hours in a department store. You can decide for yourself whether the Gondry video has its roots in this Jittlov short, but I’d definitely recommend watching the entire Jittlov reel. Who knew Regis Philbin was a fan of experimental animation?

UPDATE: Tom Knott writes, “I have an interview with Gondry were he talks about the influence of Norman McLaren, specifically McLaren’s film ‘A Chairy Tale’ (1957). Gondry noted that he makes reference to ‘A Chairy Tale’ in a video he did for Beck. The Kanye West video seems to also reference ‘A Chairy Tale.’”

JOHN CANEMAKER, JOHN CANEMAKER

If you live in Southern California you have two unique opportunities to meet animator and animation historian John Canemaker this week. The first one is Thursday night (January 12th) at Dreamworks Studios, in Burbank, as I host a Q & A with John and screen a selection of animated films that have inspired him and his work – and screen his latest film, the widely acclaimed THE MOON AND THE SON. It’s free, but you must RSVP to attend – it isn’t too late – go to the ASIFA website for more details. On Saturday (January 14th) John will be presenting a special program devoted to WINSOR McCAY at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Blvd. Two special evenings of animation history. See you there.

FPS MAGAZINE #6 NOW ONLINE

Brew readers will enjoy the latest issue of FPS magazine (#6), edited by Emru Townsend. The latest issue of the on-line publication has just hit the net and is packed with articles of interest, ranging from opinions on anime and digital filmmaking to a review of Ducktales; articles by animators Mark Mayerson and Charles Bonifacio and much commentary reflecting the year-in-review. It costs 99 cents to download. This free preview gives a sneak peek at the layout and contents. Recommended.

NEGADON, THE MONSTER FROM MARS

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There’s a new independent 25-minute CGI short from Japan called NEGADON, THE MONSTER FROM MARS, directed by Jun Awazu at Studio Magara. Usually, I’m turned off by photorealistic CG, but there’s an element of stylization in the production that lifts it above typical photorealism. Brew reader John Cassidy writes more about it:

I’m a big fan of tokusatsu (Japanese for “special effects,” which describes all Japanese live-action FX fantasies, from Godzilla to Ultraman to Kamen/Masked Rider). NEGADON, THE MONSTER FROM MARS is a tribute to the “daikaijuu” (giant monster) genre of Golden-Age tokusatsu eiga (the 1950s and 60s), with a giant space monster, military mecha, and even a giant robot (created by an emotionally-scarred scientist), which fights with the title monster at the end! Even with CG-animation, the creators of this short wanted to capture the hand-made feel of vintage tokusatsu (right down to outer space being dark-blue!), and it looks impressive. It was released on DVD in Japan this past December 15th.

Here’s the official site and in English. You can download three different trailers for the short HERE. The third version trailer (linked in the collage therein) is my favorite.