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)
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 MéliÃ¨s, 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.
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.’”
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.
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.
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.
Not the greatest interview but it’s short – and fun to listen to. Mae Questel (Betty Boop, Olive Oyl, Little Audrey, et al) recorded at a 1986 Sons of the Desert convention. Click here!(Thanks, Mark Mayerson)
Remember a couple months back when Kanye West commissioned two music videos for the same song? One was from Bill Plympton, the other from Michel Gondry. We wrote about it HERE and HERE. Now, Bill Plympton writes in his JOURNAL about how he got associated with Kanye. Apparently, West had originally commissioned a super-expensive video from Gondry, but wasn’t satisfied with the results, so he got Plympton to create a new video in one week. For those that want to compare the versions, here’s Gondry’s version (the animation director of this video was Peter Sluszka) and here’s Plympton’s version. It’s interesting to note how the visuals add an entirely new layer of meaning and effect to the song. Personally, I prefer Plympton’s hand-drawn version, with its raw, smudgy style, which is a more honest expression of the song’s earthy (if somewhat labored) tone. Gondry’s slick, candy-colored treatment, on the other hand, screams, “Look, how big my budget was!” in every shot, and, in my view, largely misses the point of the song.
I highly recommend you catch the world premiere of Joe Barbera’s latest Tom & Jerry cartoon, THE KARATEGUARD, at 9pm Friday January 27th on Cartoon Network. Barbera is credited with direction and for the story, Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone were supervising producers.
The call has been answered. Thanks!
I did this a while back for another project I was working on, and I received some really good leads, so let’s try it again. A project I’m working on right now requires a web designer. It’s a cartoon-related deal and a paying gig (but on a small budget). I’m not looking for any web designer though – I need somebody who has a thorough knowledge of CSS, Web standards and blogs (MovableType/WordPress). Flash won’t be needed. The only way I’ll know if you’re right for the project is if I see examples of work using these elements, so please email me at amid (at) animationblast (dot) com with samples of your work or a link to an online portfolio. Thanks everybody!
A one-night tribute to Bruce Timm will be mounted at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday January 29th at 6pm. Clips from Timm’s work, ranging from Tiny Toons to Justice League will be screened with ample rare production footage and Bruce himself, in-person, for a Q & A during and after the screening. More info here.
Wanna see a new animated movie voiced by Paul Giamatti, Brad Garrett, Sean Astin and Evan Rachel Wood? Then get yourself over to Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Finland or Denmark during April and May when the hand drawn cartoon feature ASTERIX AND THE VIKINGS opens there in movie theatres. This film is but one (of many) produced by A. Film A/S in Copenhagen, the largest animation studio in Scandinavia, that never played in Peroia (or New York and L.A. for that matter).And it’s also one of dozens (hundreds?) of animated features that never make it past the Atlantic Ocean. Chris Panzer wrote an excellent article for AWN about the glut of these foreign features not coming soon to a theatre or DVD rack near you anytime soon. I’m sure that there are more than a few duds among these offerings – but how many potential TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE or MIND GAME’s are we being denied?
Your history lesson for today: William Sturm (1906-1981) was a noted 20s-30s Fleischer artist and 40s Disney animator who later drew comics and had one of the more successful television commercial studios of the 1950s. His home town of Budd Lake, New Jersey has posted this small web tribute to man and his life. (Note: The research isn’t entirely accurate – but it’s sweet).
In honor of our 1500th post here on Cartoon Brew, we’d like to offer you some 1930s Harman-Ising animated goodness in the form of MGM-era Bosko and Honey model sheets. Click on images for full versions:
Last October I proudly announced that I had started working full-time on the oft-delayed ANIMATION BLAST #9. Well, that lasted a good couple weeks until I got thrown back into intense edits for the CARTOON MODERN book. And once again I was forced to set aside BLAST 9 and not achieve my self-imposed deadline. Fortunately, all the revisions on CARTOON MODERN were finally wrapped up last week and I’m back full-time on BLAST 9. I’m hesistant to announce a new date, but I hope to wrap the issue up by the end of January and have it back from the printers by the end of February. This issue has been in the works for an incredibly long time and I certainly don’t want to create the sense that I’m holding onto people’s money without delivering, so if anybody is dissatisfied with the long wait, please send me an email and I’ll immediately issue a refund.
The image at the top of this post is an animation drawing by John Sibley from THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD. There’s a great article about Sibley in BLAST 9 by Pete Docter, and I fully expect that you’ll be able to read it one of these days.