NOBLE BOY

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Scott Morse, long-time art director/story artist with Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Universal, Disney, and presently, with Pixar (as well as an Eisner Award-winning comic book artist on PLASTIC MAN, with Kyle Baker), has a new book of interest coming out this month, NOBLE BOY. Says Scott:

It’s a strange sort of project for me, a sort of children’s book for adults, about my mentor, animation design legend Maurice Noble. I think it may enlighten some of Maurice’s long-time fans, and might even make him some new ones. The book itself is offered as a hardcover “board-book”, a sort of children’s book for adults, all in rhyme, fully painted and told by me. It covers Maurice’s life and career in a playful manner, something I think he would have gotten a kick out of.

It’s 32 pages and will retail for $12.95. The initial print run is 2500 books, but it’s being offered primarily through comic book shops. Original art from the book will be made available through Scott’s website, and at San Diego Comic-Con this year.

Incredibles Golden Book by Tony Fucile

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Fans of THE INCREDIBLES will want to check out the new Golden Book, JACK-JACK ATTACK, based on the Pixar short of the same name. The book is illustrated by the great Tony Fucile, character designer and supervising animator on THE INCREDIBLES. His drawings are loose and expressive, displaying the effortless charm and sense of immediacy that can only come from years of animating. For $3, this is as affordable as inspiration gets.

Dedini, Arriola and Ketcham Speak

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Here’s the best thing I’ve found online this week: a three-part video interview from 2001 with all-star cartoonists living in Carmel, California. The participants include magazine cartoonist Eldon Dedini, GORDO creator Gus Arriola, and DENNIS THE MENACE creator Hank Ketcham. All three of them started in animation before finding success as print cartoonists, and sadly, following Dedini’s passing last month, only Arriola is still with us.

To summarize the videos, the following are things that these master cartoonists dislike nowadays: Magazine cartoons, especially THE NEW YORKER (“a lot of times you don’t need the picture”); daily newspaper comics; cartooning skills of artists currently working in both animation and print; ditto their writing skills; contemporary animation that focuses on techique at the expense of character development and humor; and CG animation (in the words of Arriola, it’s so slick “even garbage is pretty.”)

And here are the things they like: Pixar. Yep, that’s pretty much the only bit of modern cartooning that gets some love in this interview. Ketcham says about Pixar, “They do the whole thing in drawing first. They draw their cartoons before they put the technology overlap…that kind of thing may work out fine.”

Also recommended on the same site is an interview with Wah Ming Chang (1917-2003). Chang worked on PINOCCHIO and BAMBI in the Effects and Model Department, and later created stop motion animation for George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE and THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BROTHERS GRIMM, as well as designing costumes for THE KING AND I, creating masks for THE PLANET OF THE APES and designing creatures for the TV series THE OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK. This interview only scratches the surface of Chang’s career, but it’s worth a view.

Do you believe in miracles? … Yes!

Oswald posterThat’s sportcaster Al Michael’s famous call during the 1980 Winter Olympics, but it might as well apply to today’s events. The Associated press has two stories – HERE and HERE – with more details on the incredibly shrewd business deal that the Disney Co. has engineered: today Disney traded sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC in return for, among other things, the 1920s character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. It’s hard to even wrap my head around how cool this deal is; Disney is using their ESPN division as leverage to further their cartoon holdings. For a company that has shown so little regard and appreciation in recent years for its primary business – animation – this is a particularly meaningful gesture. From one of the AP articles comes this quote from Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller: “When Bob [Iger] was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word. Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun.”

Despite the fact that Oswald has been a largely forgotten character here in the US for many decades, there is currently a lot of appealing Oswald merchandise coming out of Japan. Combine the merchandising potential of the character along with the old Oswald shorts likely coming out on dvd and other ways that Disney will exploit the character, and I think in a couple years NBC Universal will be kicking themselves that they gave away a valuable animation character to Disney…for Al Michaels.

WALT DISNEY’S OSWALD

The Walt Disney Company has acquired the rights to OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT. And somewhere in heaven, Walt Disney is smiling.Disney’s studio created the cartoon character in 1927. Producer Charles Mintz took over the series for Universal in 1928, forcing Walt to go independent and conceive Mickey Mouse. The rest, as they say, is history. Oswald remained in the custody of Universal Pictures for 77 years. Until today. According to the AP :

oswaldwebsite.jpgSportscaster Al Michaels is moving to NBC and will broadcast Sunday night NFL games with John Madden, his partner on ABC during the past four seasons. In exchange for letting Michaels out of his contract with ABC and ESPN, which are owned by The Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal sold ESPN cable rights to Friday coverage of the next four Ryder Cups, granted ESPN increased usage of Olympic highlights and sold to The Walt Disney Co. the rights to “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” a character in silent cartoons made by Walt Disney from 1927-28.

What does all this mean to us? For fans of classic animation, it means another volume of Walt Disney Treasures on DVD. For the Walt Disney Company, it returns the only missing piece of the company’s animation history. For Universal, it means that they no longer have to vault those bothersome black & white cartoons.It begs the questions: Who at Disney (ABC) or Universal (NBC) was even aware of this bargaining chip? Did Universal offer to throw Oswald in to get a much desired sportscaster? Or did Roy Disney, or maybe even John Lassester, ask to acquire this property? (Jim Hill speculates that Iger first read about Oswald on Cartoon Brew!)Will Oswald be the subject of a new Disney 2-D feature – or a new show on Toon Disney?Oh, and can Disney please buy the rest of the Walter Lantz library? Universal apparently has no plans to use it.To be continued…

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Craig Yoe’s ARF

The Hatlo Inferno

MODERN ARF (Fantagraphics) is one of the most inspiring collections of cartoon artwork I’ve run across in a long time. I bought the book last summer and it’s become one of my frequent references for eclectic visual inspiration. The editor of MODERN ARF, cartoonist/historian/author Craig Yoe, calls ARF “the unholy marriage of art and comics.” Yoe is serious about dismantling the classifications of fine art and popular art. In one of the book’s pieces – a collection of cartoons about the subject of artists and models – a drawing by Picasso is shown alongside drawings by Milt Gross, André François, George Cruickshank, and Robert Crumb. Seeing Picasso and Milt Gross in such close proximity compels one to reexamine their preconceived ideas about these artists. Was Picasso a fine artist or a cartoonist? Was Milt Gross a cartoonist or a fine artist? Couldn’t we appreciate both of their art a lot more if we got rid of these superficial labels? In another piece, Yoe shows the influence of Jack Kirby on pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Hamilton, but he also shows how Kirby himself was influenced by Cubism. Other highlights include Salvador Dali storyboards for an unproduced mid-1930s film, the Art Deco comics of Antonio Rubino, crazed-perspective cartoons of Hy Mayer and a bizarre Jimmy Hatlo strip called THE HATLO INFERNO.

Yoe’s presentation of the artwork is beautiful with images printed large and clear. Text is minimal, with just enough writing to provide history and context. Much of the artwork in the book is over fifty years old, but Yoe’s exuberant visually-striking book design makes the cartoons seem as if they were created yesterday. Craig is currently working on the second installment of the ARF series, ARF MUSEUM. I saw a preview of this a few months back and it promises to be another winner. Even better, the ARF blog will debut in five days. Join the countdown at ArfLovers.com.

Help Save Tony the Tiger

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Nate Pacheco’s blog deserves a second mention in as many days. A couple years back, he tried to convince the Leo Burnett ad agency to make Tony the Tiger appealing again and return the character to its original Martin Provensen design. He asked some industry friends – Craig Kellman, Lou Romano, Conrad Vernon and Miles Thompson – to create some concept art for the pitch. Leo Burnett didn’t go for the idea. Now Nate has posted a bunch of that art on his blog HERE and encourages you to contact Leo Burnett and ask them to start creating appealing Frosted Flakes commercials again. Everybody I know always gripes about how lame and unappealing Tony the Tiger has been for the past couple decades, but nobody has taken an activist role like Nate to actually encourage the production of better commercials. Hopefully somebody at Leo Burnett is taking notes.

ANIMATOR ANALYSIS

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Over at Jaime Weinman’s Something Old, Nothing New blog, he’s posted a scene-by-scene analysis of which animators did what on the classic 1950 Robert McKimson cartoon HILLBILLY HARE. With the help of animator Greg Duffell, Weinman points out the differences in animators styles in the McKimson unit, comparing scenes done by Rod Scribner, Emery Hawkins, Charles McKimson, Phil DeLara and John Carey.The saddest part about the slow demise of hand drawn (2-D) animation over the past 30 years, is the loss of the animator’s individualistic personality in studio produced feature films, shorts and TV animation. Part of the fun of watching classic cartoons is the recognition of certain artists’ unique – sometimes eccentric – drawing style which stand out in bits and sequences: Irv Spence, Jim Tyer, Rod Scribner, Bobe Cannon, and Fred Moore’s loose limbed look pop to mind. Where are all the Bill Tytla’s and Ken Harris’s in today’s CG animation? Heck, where are they in anime or TV cartoons in general? Animated films and television shows today are so slick that this individual element has been eradicated in the final product. One of the reasons the “Making of/Art of” books (especially Pixar’s) are so fun is we get to see the individual styles of the artists behind the scenes. Rarely does this fun make it to the finished film. Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg and John Kricfalusi are among the few today whose animation style makes it through the process, and they carry on this tradition in projects they are involved with. It’s a significant element of what make their films so good, and what made the old cartoons so great.

Charles Harper Animated

Charles Harper Animated

Flash animator Nate Pacheco is working on translating the hard-edged, yet organic, style of mid-century illustrator Charles Harper into Flash animation. We’ve mentioned Harper’s work here before; he is an artist whose work has influenced many contemporary animation designers. Nate has posted a few tantalizing stills on his BLOG, and he says he’s working on the animation now. I’m not sure if this is a Renegade project or just a personal experiment, but it’s a terrific idea.

Kausler’s Cartoon Contest

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On Saturday night, Mark Kausler, upon accepting his June Foray Award at the Annie Awards ceremony, threw out a trivia question to the audience. He asked:

What characteristics do Ignatz Mouse from the 1936 Columbia Cartoon, “L’il Ainjil” and the Gremlin from the Bob Clampett 1943 Warner Bros. cartoon, “Falling Hare”, have in common, and who or what is it derived from?

Hint: It’s vocal.
Prize: Matted cel set-up from “It’s The Cat.”UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER! Robert Palmer of San Carlos, Ca. guessed the answer to the trivia question. It is Benny Rubin, originator of the “Yankee Doodle” laugh that both the Gremlin and Ignatz use in their respective cartoons.

SEAL OF DOOM

advisoryseal.jpgIt always bothers me when I see an animated film advertised with this seal (at right) from the Film Advisory Board. It’s usually pasted on newspaper ads for G-rated family films, and it’s practically a kiss of death. I’d seen it before on such other animated “classics” as TRUMPET OF THE SWAN, GUMBY THE MOVIE and FREDDY AS F.R.O.7. No Pixar, Disney or DreamWorks film has ever lowered themselves to accept this supposed “award of excellence.” Warners used it to promote LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION and you remember how well that film fared. To me, it’s a sign of desperation by clueless movie distribution execs who have no confidence in the film or in their abilities to market it – and it wouldn’t surprise me if many parents, burned by previous movie-going disappointment, also see this seal as a warning of crap ahead. It’s especially sad to see it currently affixed to the ads for CURIOUS GEORGE (because, as I say below, GEORGE is a nice little film).The Film Advisory Board seems to be run by a cruise ship singer and a magazine writer – nice ladies I’m sure; comedian Fred Travelena allowed them to put his name on their letterhead as a “celebrity friend.” I have no idea why Hollywood cares what they have to say – I certainly don’t.

THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER

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The long delayed PINK PANTHER movie starring Steve Martin (as Inspector Clouseau) opens this week. It is accompanied by several merchandising tie-ins including a DVD collection featuring every Pink Panther theatrical cartoon, a Sweet’N Low advertising campaign, and several books including one by yours truly. I haven’t seen the feature yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing the opening animated titles by Bob Kurtz and Eric Goldberg. Regardless of the quality of the new feature film, it’s nice to have an old animated friend back on the scene.

MYRON WALDMAN 1908-2006

myron002.jpgWe’ve just received word that animator and director Myron Waldman died Saturday morning, Feb. 4, at the age of 97 at Long Island hospital. A major figure at the Fleischer and Famous studios, Myron remained active as an artist until shortly before his illness and death. He leaves behind his wife Rosalie, two sons and grandchildren. Mike Dobbs furnished the following information:

Waldman, while at Fleischer, created Betty Boop’s pet dog Pudgy and the donkey duo, Hunky and Spunky. He did outstanding work on the Fleischer Superman (Billion Dollar Limited, Magnetic Telescope) series and directed the two-reel Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy short. He was a director on the second Fleischer feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, and worked and the Popeye series as well.pudgyframe.jpgBorn in 1908, Myron joined the Fleischer Studio in 1930 after he graduated from the Fine and Applied Arts program at the Pratt Institute. At the studio, he started as an opaquer and then moved into the inking department. After winning a studio competition, Waldman was promoted to the in-betweening department and was given his own animation unit in 1933. He once told me it was a thrill to have the chance to animate Ko-Ko the Clown in early Betty Boop cartoons as Ko-Ko had been a favorite of
his while growing up.One Boop of which Waldman was particularly proud is A Language All My Own (1935). Betty Boop was very popular in Japan, and this short was designed to appeal to the Japanese market. In the short, Betty travels to Japan and performs there. Myron wanted to make sure that none of her gestures and movements would offend the Japanese, so he asked a number of Japanese exchange students to check his work.caspercel.jpgHe once carried in a script for one of the studio’s Stone Age short into Dave Fleischer’s office at the end of a stick. When Dave asked why he was doing that, Myron replied. “Because it stinks!” Waldman could put a roughhouse gag across, but he frequently was put on what he described as “ooo and ahh” shorts, those with sentiment. Waldman returned to animation after serving in the Army during World War II. He worked at Famous Studios on Screen Songs, Little Lulu, and particularly the Casper shorts. He wasn’t content just with a career in animation, though. He branched out to create a “novel without words,” Eve which was a critical success when it was published in 1943. He was the artist on the children’s Sunday comic strip Happy the Humbug. In the 1960s and ’70s, he worked on a number of Saturday morning series, and was the director on the pilot for the Out of the Inkwell TV cartoon series produced by Hal Seeger. Seeger, a former Fleischer Studio employee, had convinced Max Fleischer not only to sell him the rights to do the series, but to appear in the pilot episode as well. For his final appearance with his silent screen co-star, Waldman recalled that Fleischer had his hair dyed for the occasion.Myron was one of the last living links to the Fleischer studio that continues to influence animation today.

On a personal note, I met Myron and Rosalie many times over the years. Their hospitality and warmth will never be forgotten. Myron was one of the greats. Rest in peace.(Thanks, Mike Dobbs)

CURIOUS GEORGE

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I had a chance to see the new CURIOUS GEORGE feature yesterday. Clearly this is a film aimed solely at pre-school children, and as such, it is quite successful. The character animation, production design and voices are great. If the producers’ goal was to create lush visual eye candy, they succeeded in spades. Kids will love the mischievious lead character and a very funny vocal performance by Will Ferrell will keep parents interested. Dick Van Dyke and David Cross were also good in their respective vocal roles.Is this the last U.S. studio-produced 2-D animated feature for the time being? If so, it’s a bittersweet way to go out. CURIOUS GEORGE proves that the talent is still here, and is desparately awaiting great stories to match it.

CONGRATS TO ANNIE AWARD WINNERS

The ASIFA-Hollywood Annie Awards ceremony and party Saturday evening was an unqualified success. The award show has been growing and growing for several years and yesterday’s event certainly hit a new high – with a sold out theatre, Hollywood celebrities and animators from both out of state and out of the U.S. It felt more like an international festival than our usual local shindig.Seemed like everyone was there, and there were many memorable moments – John Canemaker giving Tyrus Wong his Winsor McCay Award, June Foray awarding Mark Kausler a special achievement honor, Tom Kenny’s hilarious ad libs, the touching tribute to Joe Ranft, and Nick Park and Steve Box’s numerous (and deserved) returns to the stage. I even enjoyed Seth MacFarlane and Jason Alexander’s on-stage schtick. William Shatner, Patrick Warburton, Brad Bird and Craig T. Nelson were hilarious as presenters.I especially felt good about the non-Wallace & Gromit winners: i.e. best short, THE FAN AND THE FLOWER by Bill Plympton and Dan O’Shannon; Ernie Gilbert’s character designs, and Acme Filmworks’ United Airlines commercial. Congratulations to all winners and nominees – and thank you ASIFA-Hollywood for a night to remember.

Wallace & Gromit Top The Annies

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Aardman Animation’s WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT won this year’s ASIFA-Hollywood Annie Award for Best Animated Feature. Like the INCREDIBLES at last year’s Annies, WALLACE & GROMIT dominated the feature categories, taking home ten awards in total, including best directing, music, character design, storyboarding, production design, character animation, voice acting and writing in a feature. The award for best television production went to Cartoon Network’s STAR WARS: CLONE WARS II. Here is the complete list of winners.

Cartoon Brew Film of the Week: Eva Goes to Foreign

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Something a bit different for our Cartoon Brew Film of the Week. EVA GOES TO FOREIGN is a 1-minute, 45-second UK-produced public service announcement aimed at dissuading women in Carribbean countries who might engage in drug trafficking. The film is a powerful example of the medium, showing how animation can effectively communicate difficult, serious ideas in a short amount of time.

The spot is also impressive for its distinctive graphic look, courtesy of the film’s co-director and designer Neil Campbell Ross. The backgrounds have a painterly esthetic composed of solid swatches of color with no inked outline. The characters in front also have minimal use of line, with their bodies constructed of bold, colored forms. Both characters and backgrounds have highly abstracted light and shadows playing off their forms that really ties the piece together. Ross has previously done production design/illustration on films as diverse as ANTZ, THE CORPSE BRIDE, TARZAN II, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and Aardman’s upcoming FLUSHED AWAY. I’ve been a big fan since discovering his work online and was surprised to find a piece of animation like EVA that so faithfully translates his style to film. You can see more of his work, including lots of development art for EVA, at his website NeilCampbellRoss.co.uk. Also be sure to check out his BLOG and his incredible development art for THE CORPSE BRIDE.

I asked Neil if he could provide a few background details on the film and here’s what he wrote:

It is a public information short commisioned by FPWP/HIBISCUS, a voluntary organisation that works with drug offenders in the U.K. The story was conceived by Tass Darlington and is based on her interviews with Jamaican women doing time in British prisons for trafficking in hard drugs. It is now being shown on cable and local TV stations in the English-speaking Caribbean countries. Its purpose is to dissuade the kind of vulnerable individual, who gets lured into trafficking, from making the wrong move. The design ‘style’ I would call graphic – realistic. The characters and their settings had to be believable for the intended audience. The sad story is an abbreviated but accurate account of how a young Jamaican woman – EVA – becomes a ‘drug mule’ and the tragic consequences for herself and her family.

My initial designs and all backgrounds were done in Photoshop. The animation was roughed in traditionally – pencil on paper – then cleaned up in Flash and composited in After Effects. The tight soul-reggae music track is by Paul Maxx and Deep Rooted Production. Eva’s beautiful Jamaican patois is spoken by Susan Lawson-Reynolds. Script by Mark Holloway. Adapted by Leone Ross. Co-direction is by myself and Richard Burdett for ANIMAGE FILMS.

EVA GOES TO FOREIGN can be viewed HERE, courtesy of Uli Meyer Studios, where the film’s animation was produced.

THE THREE STOOGES

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Most of us who love cartoons also have a love for The Three Stooges. Even those cheap TV cartoons made in the 1960s fascinate me. Steve Cox and Jim Terry have a new book coming out next month focusing on Larry Fine. ONE FINE STOOGE: A FRIZZY LIFE IN PICTURES features Larry’s recently discovered private memorabilia collection – personal notes, clippings, interviews, correspondence, and a unique cache of memorabilia – published for the first time, thirty years after his passing. It also includes storyboards by Dave Detiege from the mid-1960s Cambria cartoons. Go to LarryFine.com for more information.

TONIGHT IN HOLLYWOOD

If you are in L.A. today, get yourself over to The El Capitan Theatre tonight for a screening of a newly restored LADY AND THE TRAMP, preceeded by a panel (at 7pm) with Andreas Deja, Stan Freberg, Eric Goldberg, songwriter Richard Sherman, Disney restoration man Theo Gluck and hosted by Oscar nominee John Canemaker. I’d never miss this, but I’m committed to my monthly film & music show at the Steve Allen Theatre (tonight at 8pm).

More Thoughts about Disney-Pixar

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Many of the most insightful comments about the Disney-Pixar merger are not coming from the mainstream media, but rather from artists posting thoughts on their blogs. Here’s a few of the interesting posts that I’ve run across recently:

Animator Jeremy Bernstein believes the return of hand-drawn animation is inevitable at Disney, and he’s excited about that possibility.

Toon Baboon wants to see the studio return to its core fundamentals: hand-drawn animation, storytelling, timelessness, and innovation/exploration.

Photographer Daniel Sroka asks, Will Disney generate content or make art?: “Part of Disney’s problem of late is they have confused their business method (themepark, character licensing, etc.) for their mission (telling stories).”

FORGOTTEN ANIMATOR TOM JOHNSON

Michael Sporn, on his excellent blog, has posted a bio of animator Tom Johnson from the October 1935 issue of Max Fleischer’s in-house publication Fleischer Animated News. Johnson isn’t discussed much, but he was one of the steady staffers at Fleischer (mainly on POPEYE) and Famous Studios. He also animated the original Jack-In-The-Box Paramount NOVELTOON opening of the 1940s.

NYT OP-ED ON DISNEY-PIXAR

We couldn’t state it any better than this: Neal Gabler in the New York Times today on the Disney-Pixar merger.

…the seeming conflict between Disney and Pixar was never about old technology bowing to new. It was about aesthetics and how technology best served them. …it isn’t C.G.I. itself that has made their films so wildly successful. Rather, it is the narrative craft with which those films were made. …Disney is doing something that perhaps no other corporation of this size has ever done: actively de-corporatizing itself. It is reassigning authority from the bureaucracy to a small group of creative individuals. It is, in short, trying to resurrect Walt Disney and his early hands-on management style.