UPA SUNDAY

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You all probably know this already (and I’m sure we’ll remind you once again over the weekend) but Brewmasters Jerry and Amid will be participating in the big ASIFA-Hollywood / American Cinematheque UPA Tribute this Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. The fun begins at 6pm when we will be screening 35mm prints of rare commercials, industrials, TV productions, behind the scenes footage and Scope prints of classic theatrical cartoons (including ROOTY TOOT TOOT and TELL TALE HEART). We will have panels featuring UPA veterans (Bill Melendez, Willis Pyle, Alan Zaslove, Fred Crippen, Sam Clayberger) and guest animators (Mark Kausler, Pixar’s Lou Romano). ASIFA members will recieve a discount on admission. Advance tickets are on sale at the box office now. See you there!

Good Lord!

Nobody does a better job of parodying “retro” styles of animation than J.J. Sedelmaier. He’s done it time and time again from his Filmation-style AMBIGUOUSLY GAY DUO shorts to commercials like the ’50s-style Home Savings Bank ad to his revival of the 1970s interstitial series SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK. The genius of these works is that they’re never so over-the-top as to be instantly obvious as parody. This faithfulness (and reverence) to the original source material is exactly what makes the new works so funny. A perfect example of this can be found in Sedelmaier’s latest commercial, a 45-second spot that spoofs the classic theatrical ad “Let’s All Go To The Lobby”. J.J. kindly sent over a copy of the spot to share with CartoonBrew readers:

Because the spot was produced for the Fellowship Bible Church, the marching popcorn box, candy bar and soda cup featured in the original “Lobby” short have been replaced by a cross, a Bible, a cup of wine and a communion wafer. “The idea was to make it look like it was produced in the late ’40s, and add little things that would appear in the context of that era’s visual language, while having some fun with it,” says Sedelmaier. “The original was most likely produced by moonlighting animators who probably weren’t much better than third-string. Now it’s become a style unto itself.”

The piece was conceived by Jeff Hopfer, a creative group head and art director at Dallas-based The Richards Group and a longtime member of the church. The film theatre analogy is quite appropriate for the Fellowship Bible Church, which recently completed an 18-month project to remodel what had been a three-screen multiplex into a tabernacle that can accommodate 1,200 worshippers. The church’s real lobby is now equipped with industrial-size urns serving 20 coffee flavors and cabaret tables.

A lot of effort was put into capturing the quality of an older piece of animation. From a press release about the commercial:

The creative team wants to give the film a vintage feel, so Hopfer has arranged to output the finished digitally produced animation to film and have Sedelmaier scratch it up, add dust, and distress it manually before transferring it back to digital video – a low-tech technique he’s employed in the past on other projects, including the Episcopal Church spot he did with Hopfer in the ‘90s, the Speed Racer spot he did for Volkswagen through Arnold Worldwide, and the classic “Home Savings Bank” commercial produced for Chiat-Day. In this particular case, J.J. added bad tape splices to cause the film to jump slightly as it travels through the film gate.

Commercial credits are as follows: J.J. Sedelmaier, director/producer; Dave Lovelace, production manager and animator; Dan Madia and Claire Widman, storyboard and design; John Bonarrigo, animation and design; Steve Jackett, animation and assisting; Gene DiCiccio, design and assisting; and Heather Krumm, models, backgrounds and assisting. For more about Sedelmaier’s work, read this great interview with him at HOGAN’S ALLEY.

VAN EATON ANIMATION EVENT

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Wednesday night (3/22) at the Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, H.B. Lewis will be on hand to discuss his work in illustration and animation. His credits include character design for Pixar (CARS and RATATOUILLE), Walt Disney Feature Animation (TARZAN and TREASURE PLANET), DreamWorks Animation (MADAGASCAR, OVER THE HEDGE) and Blue Sky/Fox Animation (ICE AGE and ROBOTS). You must RSVP to attend (818) 788-2357. Click here for more info.

BLUM BLUM

Blum Blum

One more piece of rare animation to point out today, and this one is an incredible treat. BLUM BLUM was the student film of Duane Crowther (1928-1998), who was one of the best commercial animators of the 1950s. He made this film when he was only twenty years old at UCLA. I wrote about the film back in 2004 HERE and HERE.

The film was posted by Steve Moore, who has directed a number of films in recent years that I’ve enjoyed, including the kooky Disney short REDUX RIDING HOOD and his personal film THE INDESCRIBABLE NTH. Steve tells me that he’s going to be posting all sorts of rare films on his site, including student shorts from when he was at CalArts in the early-1980s, by the likes of Chris Sanders, Kirk Wise, Kevin Lima, Brenda Chapman, Ralph Eggleston and Tony Fucile.

The Films of Carmen D’Avino

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Again, thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to discover the work of an animator whose work is otherwise inaccessible nowadays. North County Public Radio has a terrific website about experimental animator/filmmaker Carmen D’Avino. The site has audio interviews with him, as well as complete Quicktimes of nine of his films, including the Oscar-nominated animated short PIANISSIMO (1963) and the Oscar-nominated short documentary THE BACKGROUND (1973). To find out more about D’Avino, check out the interview with him in Robert Russett and Cecile Starr’s out-of-print EXPERIMENTAL ANIMATION: ORIGINS OF A NEW ART.
(Thanks, Karl Cohen)

Mark Newgarden’s WE ALL DIE ALONE

WE ALL DIE ALONE

I’ve been meaning to write about cartoonist/animation artist Mark Newgarden’s new book WE ALL DIE ALONE (Fantagraphics), a beautifully designed, laugh-packed anthology of his career-to-date that collects his print cartoons from the 1980s and ’90s among many other things. Yesterday’s NEW YORK TIMES published a piece on Mark’s book that serves as a solid introduction to what makes his work so unique:

“Why isn’t humor funny?” was a working title for “We All Die Alone,” Mr. Newgarden said. “That’s what a lot of the work is exploring.” He recalled the desolate world of stand-up comedians he has known. “I have a friend who’s a very physical comedian, and his life has been about literally hurting himself onstage in order to get laughs,” he said. “He embodies that desperation, that willingness to do anything because, somehow, he has convinced himself that this is his purpose in life: to make people laugh.”

In his interview with Mr. Nadel, Mr. Newgarden provides an oblique explanation, in the form of a childhood reminiscence, of the roots of his obsession. He recalls watching the Three Stooges on television, laughing uproariously at their “magnificent abuse,” when his grandfather would barrel into the room and rant: “How can you laugh? Those men are dead! Those men are dead!”

“That made it all much funnier,” he says.

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(link via HarryMcCracken.com)

CARTOON TRUCK

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Robert Luczun, a grade school art teacher in New Jersey, sent me some photos of his truck – which he’s decorated every inch of with comic book, strip and animated cartoon characters…

I just love doing art that is non-conventional. One of my hobbies is antique cars, my other love is comic art and animated cartoons. The idea hit…why not use a vehicle as a canvas. I chose one of the first Model A’s…a 1928 Ford Model AR Roadster Pickup. I decided to do a DOCUMENTARY ON COMICS on a HISTORIC VEHICLE. I started painting on October 18 2004 on the anniversary of the first published comic “The Yellow Kid” (October 18,1896) and finished on January 12, 2006. As much as possible, the truck was disassembled, a lot of it was painted in backbreaking positions. The only record I kept was on airbrush painting hours: over 2,000. This does not include original restoration of the Model A, research and layout. My goal now is to secure a sponsor so that I may get to the big national car shows and the comic conventions.

Feel free to contact Robert at robertluczun at yahoo.com

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GIMMIE GIMMIE OCTOPUS

gimmieoct.jpgASIFA-San Francisco president Karl Cohen sent me this link (also featured on BoingBoing the other day) to what may be the strangest children’s TV series ever made. It’s not animated, but it’s from Japan with people in costumes – the tender story of an Octopus and a Peanut – only like Pufnstuf made by a drug-crazed Ed Wood. Says Karl:

It is a low budget Teletubby type show with attitude. I have only looked at one episode, Baby Octopus (took 2 or 3 minutes to download) and wait till you see what happens to the baby! I find it hard to believe this isn’t created by a radical subversive underground theater group. I have no idea what the point of it is or why it was made, but I suspect kids somewhere in this world are entertained by it. Or was it created by inmates of a mental institution?

The original show, “KURE KURE TAKORA” made its debut in October 1973. The central character covets everything by saying “KURE! (I want it)” all the time. Each episode runs 3 minutes.

Charles Solomon on Talky Cartoons

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One of my biggest grievances against contemporary animation is that characters won’t shut up. Too often in American animation, dialogue is used as a substitute for storytelling, acting, and communication between characters. It happens everywhere, and I’ve mentioned it frequently, whether it be on TV shows like Cartoon Network’s CAMP LAZLO or trailers for animated films, like DreamWorks’s OVER THE HEDGE. Blame it on whoever you want – animation execs who are visually uneducated and can only understand characters that communicate verbally, scriptwriters (for obvious reasons), or artists who aren’t confident of their abilities to act without dialogue – the fact is that today’s cartoons talk too much. I was really pleased to see historian/critic Charles Solomon tackle the issue in this weekend’s NY TIMES, with a hard-hitting piece about how wall-to-wall dialogue hurts so many current animated features. The entire article is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:

In “Robots,” eager young Rodney Copperbottom, on arriving in Robot City, meets Fender, voiced by Robin Williams. All the wonder the audience should feel as Rodney beholds the Erector-set metropolis of his dreams is crushed under Fender’s nonstop shtick. The characters in “Hoodwinked” natter constantly, even as their unfortunate mouth movements reveal inadequacies in the design of their faces. And if the trailer is any indication, “The Wild,” coming from Disney on April 14, with voices by Kiefer Sutherland and Janeane Garofalo, among others, looks like yet another gabfest.

American animation wasn’t always like this. Some of its most memorable moments have no talking: Mickey Mouse dancing with the brooms in “Fantasia”; the Seven Dwarfs weeping at Snow White’s bier; Bugs Bunny riding in as Brunhilde on a white charger in “What’s Opera, Doc?” Animation is often funnier, more dramatic and more powerful when words aren’t distracting the viewer’s attention from the stylized expressions and movements.


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SPEEDY RACES VOLKSWAGEN

speedy.jpgSpeedy Gonzales may have been banned (at one time) from the Cartoon Network, but he’s never been more in demand by the public. Now Warner Bros. is licensing the character to Volkswagen for use in an international ad campaign to attract Hispanic drivers who admire the mouse. The ads can be viewed HERE, HERE and HERE.

“The Speedy Gonzales and new GTI Mk V match-up is a natural,” said Kerri Martin, director of brand innovation for Volkswagen of America, Inc. “Both have permeated pop culture. Both have a loyal and passionate fan base. Both have achieved iconic status in a world of high-powered acceleration.”"In the Hispanic market, Speedy Gonzales is our superhero,” commented Creativeondemand founding partner and creative director, Priscilla Cortizas. “Not only is he the epitome of speed, he communicates positive values like altruism, resourcefulness, intelligence and confidence.”

(Thanks, Brian Lutz)

Letterman

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Michael Sporn had the great luck of breaking into the animation industry at John and Faith Hubley’s studio, Storyboard, in the early-1970s. He’s posted some fascinating remembrances on his blog about his time working on the Hubleys’ LETTERMAN interstitials, produced for PBS’s THE ELECTRIC COMPANY. Read them HERE.

It’s also worth noting that last month a 4-disc dvd collection of THE ELECTRIC COMPANY was released. Not sure how much LETTERMAN is on it, but surely, there’s at least a few episodes.

CARTOONS IN TRIBECA

The prestigious Tribeca film festival is spotlighting independent animation from the Big Apple. Included are the world premieres of Patrick Smith’s “Puppet,” Nina Paley’s “Sitayana” (pictured above), Mike Sullivan’s “Sex Life of Robots” (excerpt), Ben Levin’s “She She She She’s a Bombshell,” and Bill Plympton’s “Guide Dog.” The screenings will be held on May 1st, May 3rd, May 4th, May 5th, and May 7th. The filmmakers will be present at all the screenings. Visit the Tribeca Film Festival website for times and locations.

Setting the Record Straight?

If you’re not reading John K.’s new blog, you’re missing one of the most entertaining animation blogs on the Internet. John’s most recent post revolves around the following premise: “Spumco is responsible for the 3 biggest business, marketing and technological innovations in the last 15 years and everyone else has benefitted greatly.”Agree?Didn’t think so.To play devil’s advocate though, name another individual who’s had as much influence on contemporary TV animation as John K? Perhaps Matt Groening? Bruce Timm? Mike Judge? Could make for an interesting discussion. Of course, considering the current state of TV animation, I’m not sure why anybody would be chomping at the bit to take credit for it.

Eiko Tanaka Interview

MIDNIGHT EYE has this interview with Eiko Tanaka, co-founder and president of Japan’s Studio 4°C, the company that produced the amazing MIND GAME. I’ve actually been a fan of a number of 4°C’s productions, including MEMORIES and NOISEMAN SOUND INSECT, but the funny thing is that I didn’t realize until recently that they were all made by the same studio. I’ll definitely be paying much closer attention to what they produce in the future.