HAPPY BIRTHDAY: ANIMATION 1906-2006

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces

The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive has just noted that April 6th marks the 100th birthday of animation. James Stuart Blackton created “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” in 1906, and the artform that it spawned is one of the greatest creative contributions of America, second only to Jazz. ASIFA’s Steve Worth has posted the story of Blackton and a link to a Quicktime movie of the film that started it all on the Archive blog.

Oswald South of the Border

Mexican reader Uriel Durán writes to let us know that Oswald is popular nowadays in Mexico, as well as Japan:

The situation is that in the 1950s and ’60s, many comic books based upon American cartoon characters were translated and published here for Mexican audiences. Then, when the American imprints stopped making comics, Mexican companies bought licenses and kept making new stories, written and drawn by Mexican artists. Some characters like Pink Panther, Droopy and Tom & Jerry still appear weekly in small comic books (5.5x8in) aimed at children. Some of the cartoons are still on air too on some local networks.

Now, Woody Woodpecker is also a character that still has a comic book series. About two or three years ago, as a request from Universal, the comic was cancelled and relaunched to fit the new character designs used in the most recent TV series – until then, the characters were still drawn in the softened style used in the first Woody cartoons. Oswald did not appear in the new cartoons but he kept appearing in short stories in the Woody comics, now using a retro look very much like the Japanese toys. Art could be better though, as the current artists are not very talented and not very familiar with the original black-&-white Oswald cartoons. Just wanted to let you know about the situation of the character as it seems he’s used almost everywhere except his native country.

Uriel also sent along a few examples of the Oswald comics. Click on images for larger versions. This is what the older comic looked like:

Oswald comic

And here are a couple pages from more recent Oswald comics, using the old-school redesign also seen in current Japanese merchandise.

Oswald comic

Oswald comic


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Cartoon Brew Film of the Week: WELCOME TO GLARINGLY

Grant Orchard's Welcome to Glaringly

There’s a lot of animation nowadays that has a retro-pixel look with blocky graphics. None I’ve seen execute the look as elegantly as the British short WELCOME TO GLARINGLY (2003) by Grant Orchard. The film’s Orwellian theme is a perfect match for the style, and the animation is smartly done to take advantage of the pixelated look. With over a half million public surveillance cameras installed around London, the film’s idea is not far removed from current realities, and eloquently points out the pitfalls of relying on technology as judge, jury and executioner.

Grant Orchard has directed commercials for StudioAKA (like this terrific spot for MTV) and also is one of the founders of the studio The Hope & Anchor. Also, it should be pointed out that the graphics and sound on GLARINGLY are not too great on this online version I linked to, but it’s the only complete version I could find online. Here’s a CLIP that gives a more accurate sense of the film’s quality.

BEST OF THE REST

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Next Thursday night I will be giving a talk at the Van Eaton Galleries, discussing and screening some of the best non-Disney cartoons of all time – surrounded by original art from the films themselves. This is a benefit for the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive – there will be an admission charge ($8) and a healthy pitch for further donations to this worthy cause. Cartoons I’ll be discussing at the event will include Happy Harmonies (Dance of the Weed pictured above), Woody Woodpecker, Screwy Squirrel, the Fox & Crow and Popeye. Seating is very limited and you must RSVP (to [email protected]) if you are interested in attending. The fun begins at 7:30pm, Feb. 23rd, at Van Eaton Galleries, 13613 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks.

Highly Recommended Reading

Visit HERE for an excellent blog post by feature story artist Jenny Lerew discussing simplicity in animation storytelling and how it applies to LADY AND THE TRAMP and THE INCREDIBLES:

Where “Lady and the Tramp” succeeds is in taking a simple story and making absolutely sure that every character and every scene makes an impact on the audience. As leisurely as some of the pacing is, it’s deliberate and crucial to establishing the mood–either of the time period, the time of day, or the characters’ emotions. And there is very little dialogue–as well as the fact that it’s not so much what the characters say, but how they act while saying it. The humor comes from context and expression, not from verbal jokes.

Comments on CARS Clips

Pixar previewed a couple clips from CARS at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. Here’s a description of the clips shown. More interestingly, below is a collection of blog comments I found online that offers some sense of what WonderCon attendees thought of the clips. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Ohmi

They showed a couple of clips of it. Ugh Nascar.. and the main car character makes me think Nemo got turned into a Nascar car :P I sure hope this movie is better than it seems to be.

DocPockets

Pixar showed updated trailers to Cars that looks much better than the advanced trailers we saw last year (it’s a very NASCAR movie, with some camera moves that are impossible in the real world. It looked cool.)

Macaco

Also I saw One Man Band and CARS IS GOING TO BE SO AWESOME oh my god I cannot even describe, it looks AMAZING they showed the first sequence in the film and like… I really don’t like cars much but that bit they showed us… man it made me want to go hump a lambhorghini.

Michael

Overall, the trademark Pixar humor is still there, but I felt the topic of auto-racing limited its potential, as the footage didn’t make me more excited about seeing the film.

SFist

The Pixar panel was pretty snooze-inducing, but we did get to see the Oscar-nominated short “One Man Band.” We only wish Cars looked half as entertaining as that short.

Elton Wong

The clips shown generated excitement and laughter from the crowd. Looks like Disney and Pixar’s merger will prove to be a valuable partnership in the long run.

Ryan Olsen

“Cars” looks a lot better with some of the fully-rendered clips presented by a panel from Pixar. The details are pretty breathtaking, IMO. Before I was concerned because the cars looked like Silly Putty in last-year’s trailer. I’m still a little ambivalent, but I’m willing to see it.

UPA TRIBUTE UPDATE

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The tribute to UPA on March 26th at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is shaping up nicely. Mark your calendars now. Scheduled to appear for a Q&A are Bill Melendez, Willis Pyle, Alan Zaslove, Fred Crippen, and Sam Clayberger – among others. Films will include rare 35mm presentations of such classics as ROOTY TOOT TOOT (1952) and THE TELL TALE HEART (1953), as well as commercials, BOING BOING SHOW shorts (like Ernie Pintoff/Fred Crippen/John Whitney’s BLUES PATTERN and Rod Scribner’s THE LOST DUCHESS) and industrial films like THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN (1946) and MAN ALIVE! (1952). More info will be posted here in the coming weeks or check UPApix.com.

TOY FAIR 2006

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I am blown away by images appearing on the internet from the International Toy Fair being held this week in New York. In addition to the cool Looney Tunes figures from DC Direct (mentioned below) there are also some nice items on tap from Disney’s MEET THE ROBINSONS and Pixar’s CARS. And Dark Horse has an incredible selection of stuff for 2006, ranging from Harvey Comics HOT STUFF to Disney’s wartime GREMLINS (above), Kellogg’s cereal cartoon mascots and Al Capp’s Shmoo!(Thanks, Ted Pratt)

Walt Who?

Animation director Michael Sporn points out a depressing moment he saw on JEOPARDY’s “Teen Tournament” a couple nights ago. There’s apparently more than a bit of truth to all those research studies that claim kids today have no idea who Walt Disney was. And these teens on JEOPARDY are supposedly the smart ones.

UPDATE: Tim Nickel writes:

You can view the game with that clue HERE. The clue itself is in the second round under the category “NATIONAL INVENTORS HALL OF FAME” and the clue reads “‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ was the first full length animated film to use this inductee’s multiplane camera”. Which makes it sound like the answer should be Ub Iwerks, not Disney. So you can see why no one got it, it was a confusing clue.

LOONEY TUNES TOYS

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DC Direct, the action figure division of DC Comics, is releasing a series of Looney Tunes figures this spring which look pretty hot. The toyline, dubbed the “Golden Collection” (not to be confused with the DVD sets of the same name), are based on scenes from great Warner Bros. cartoons. They look terrific.Meanwhile over in Italy, a company called Ape Collection is selling a set of 60 individual figurines based on the Warner Bros. cartoons including such obscure figures as Clampett’s Do-Do, Slow-Poke Rodriguez, Baby Face Finster (below, left), Cecil Turtle (below, center) and Egghead (below, right). And that’s NOT all, folks! According to moderator Jon Cooke on The Termite Terrace Trading Post, they plan to release further obscurities like Cool Cat, Conrad the Sailor and the Bookworm. With Looney Tunes no longer on broadcast TV or Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. is slowly managing to erase its animation legacy from the public mindset. Luckily the DVD sets and these smart collectibles can remind us how great these cartoons are for years to come.

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Preview: Remixing the Magic

REMIXING THE MAGIC opens this Friday, February 17, at Gallery 1988 (7020 Melrose Ave., corner of Melrose & La Brea). Opening reception is 7-10pm. The exhibit features the work of fifty contemporary artists, including many animation folk, reinterpreting Disney characters and films. Jerry mentioned this show on the Brew last weekend, and now we’re offering an exclusive preview of a few of the pieces that’ll be on display.

Show co-curator Jon Gibson tells the Brew, “The most amazing part of this show is the broadness of the theme – some artists went all-out theatrical classics, while others dug into the vault of Disney shorts, while others, like Biskup, did Disneyland. There’s even an Oswald piece!” Personally, I think there’s a great symbolic quality to this show as well: artists are reclaiming classic animated characters that have for too long been slumming it as corporate symbols. The timing of the show couldn’t be more appropriate considering that in the past month artists have begun reclaiming the Disney studio as well and helping to set it on the right path again.

(click on images for larger versions)

Greg Simkins
Gepetto’s Dilemma
Greg Simkins
Inspiration: PINOCCHIO, misc.

Aaron Jasinski
Tinkerbell’s Lucky Day
Aaron Jasinski
Inspiration: PETER PAN

Chris Roth
Bambi
Chris Roth
Inspiration: Duh!

Tim Biskup
Tomorrowland Man
Tim Biskup
Inspiration: Tomorrowland (Disneyland)

Alex Kirwan
Skeleton Dance
Alex Kirwan
Inspiration: THE SKELETON DANCE

Brandi Milne
The Unbirthday
Brandi Milne
Inspiration: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Lola
Alice Spills Her Tea
Lola
Inspiration: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Amanda Visell
Baby Mine
Amanda Visell
Inspiration: DUMBO

Joe Ledbetter
Yoo-Hoo!
Joe Ledbetter
Inspiration: BUILDING A BUILDING


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REASON TO GET A VIDEO IPOD

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Classic Disney cartoon shorts are slowly being made available for download in Apple’s iTunes music store. The plan is to release every Disney Oscar winner and nominee over the next several months, ten at a time. Among the first titles available are THE OLD MILL, THE BRAVE LITTLE TAILOR and THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE. We applaud the decision to include the original version of THREE LITTLE PIGS with its original 1933 United Artists opening titles and the infamous Peddler gag intact – a scene which was subsequently re-animated in the 1940s to be less offensive (the Apple download combines the original 1933 picture with the Wolf’s voice, in that one scene, re-dubbed from a 1940s reissue). This stuff is highly recommended in any format!

FREE JIMMY

Free Jimmy

SLIPP JIMMY FRI (FREE JIMMY) is Norway’s first CG animated feature, and also the country’s most expensive film production to date, with a budget of approximately $16 million USD. The film is written and directed by underground cartoonist Christopher Nielsen and premieres in Norway on April 21. There’s a teaser trailer for the film HERE and the film’s WEBSITE has a production timeline with some interesting visuals. The animation looks serviceable, if not exactly Pixar/DreamWorks quality, but the grungy production design and offbeat story set this film apart from anything currently being produced in the States. Like many animated films coming out in the US this year, FREE JIMMY riffs on the animals-on-a-grand-adventure formula. This time though the animals are a drug-addicted circus elephant and a moose. But there’s a lot more to the story. From a synopsis found online:

Four stoners, five vegans, three mobsters, four hunters and a million reasons to free one elephant. Roy Arnie has a dream. One day he will run his own circus and conquer the world. Today, however, he is a stable hand working in the Circus Stromowski, a miserable Russian big top, run by a hopeless alcoholic fourth generation circus director, Igor Stromowski, and full of useless has-beens and tired animals that will only perform under the influence of narcotics. Roy Arnie invites his old buddies Gaz and Odd, and their sidekick Flea, to come and work at the circus, and while work is an alien concept to Gaz and Odd, the appearance of an irate criminal who they are indebted to decides the issue. At the circus, Roy Arnie introduces the trio to the star attraction: Jimmy the elephant. Jimmy is the key to Roy Arnie’s dreams. The elephant carries a secret, a secret of enough value to bankroll Roy Arnie’s circus. All he has to do is free Jimmy and his dreams will come true.

The English screenplay for the film was penned by British actor/comedian Simon Pegg, and the English-version voice cast sounds promising, with an eclectic mix of Brits and Americans on board including Woody Harrelson, Kyle MacLachlan, Samantha Morton, Simon Pegg, and Jim Broadbent.
(Thanks to the person who told me about this and whose email I’ve misplaced.)

Sylvain Chomet Commercial

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Check out this commercial for insurance company Winterthur by THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE director Sylvain Chomet. The animation and overall look is top notch, but the concept for the ad is somewhat flat and uninspired. You can just feel the ad agency all over this one. Chomet has a lot of good stuff coming up, including the feature THE ILLUSIONIST and a sequence in the upcoming anthology film PARIS JE T’AIME.
(via Hydrocephalic Bunny)

REMIXING THE MAGIC

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This should be fun. Gallery 1988 in Hollywood (7020 Melrose Ave. – near LaBrea) is hosting a reception next Friday (7-10pm) for their new exhibit REMIXING THE MAGIC (Feb. 17th through March 10th). This exhibit features the work of 50 contemporary artists reinterpreting Disney classic characters, scenes and magic moments. Artists include Tim Biskup, Amanda Visell, Gabe Swarr, Katie Rice, Jim Mahfood, Alex Kirwan, Jorge Gutierrez and 43 others.

Oswald Questions

Our friend Harry McCracken has a list of questions about the Oswald/Al Michaels trade. The questions are more light-hearted than the set of questions Harry had about the Disney-Pixar merger, but they’re the type of thoughts that all hardcore cartoon buffs are wondering right now, like:

Who owns Floyd and Lloyd, Oswald’s sons? Are they now orphaned? Will Disney need to trade two more sportcasters to NBC to get them?