FIRST FLIGHT

firstflight1.jpgI had a first look at OVER THE HEDGE yesterday (thank you, Dreamworks) and it’s not the 90 minute talk-fest, per the trailer, that Amid described yesterday. It’s got appealing characters (particularly the Garry Shandling turtle), lots of slapstick action and a great score by Ben Folds.They also screened a new seven minute short called FIRST FLIGHT. It’s the first Dreamworks short not spun off from one of their hit features, and their first film not featuring an all star voice cast. In fact it’s marvelously performed sans dialog! Directed by Cameron Hood and Kyle Jefferson, the story involves a harried office worker who misses his bus and ends up spending his morning teaching a baby bird to to fly. It’s very cute.With Pixar’s ongoing shorts program, Disney’s LITTLE MATCH GIRL, and now Dreamworks entering the shorts arena … are the majors slowly returning to creating meaningful short films? With video iPods, online downloads, You Tube and animation podcasts booming, the short film hasn’t been this popular since… I don’t know… 1934?? Whatever it is, I’m all for it. Keep ‘em coming!UPDATE: Floyd Bishop points out: “I read your post on the Brew about the new short from Dreamworks. In it, you said it was the first Dreamworks short not spun off from one of their hit features. This is not entirely true. PDI/Dreamworks did the short film Fishing in 1999, which featured no dialog at all. It was a watercolor, non-photorealistic rendered piece about the man who catches so many fish, they turn into a wave and knock him over.” Thanks, Floyd. I guess I should have said FIRST FLIGHT is the first short of the merged 2D/3D Dreamworks Animation studio in Glendale.

THE SOCIETY OF ANIMATION STUDIES

The 18th Annual Society for Animation Studies Conference will be held in San Antonio, Texas, at Trinity University from July 7th through to July 10th 2006. The theme for the 2006 conference is “Animation at the Crossroads.” Program Participants include:

Alan Cholodenko, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia who will present a paper on “(The) Death (of) The Animator, or: The Felicity of Felix”.Pierre Floquet, Bordeaux University, France, on “What is (not) so French in Les Triplettes de Belleville”.Michael Frierson, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, North Carolina, who has researched “A Decade of Early Animation: John Stuart Blackton’s Animated Films 1900-1910″.Maureen Furniss, CalArts, Valencia, California will present her paper on “John Whitney: The Early Years”.And Mark Langer, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada on “The Fleischer WWI Military Films”.

The SAS, held in a different city each year, is always worth attending for insights on animation history and perspectives on current films. More info about this event is posted on their website.

SYLVESTER THE JESTER

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Our friend Paul Dini informs us of a performance in Hollywood this Friday of human cartoon, Sylvester the Jester (aka Danny Sylvester).

Sylvester is a huge Tex Avery and Bob Clampett fan and he does a wild, high-energy, very funny magic act inspired by classic MGM and Looney Tunes sight gags. The show is at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, this Friday March 17th starting at 11:00 PM and runs about an hour. Tickets are 12 bucks and there is free parking across the street. Come spend St. Paddy’s Day watching a guy in a red zoot suit blow his own head off.

To get a better idea of what Mr. Sylvester is up to (with video of some of his performances), check out his website.

JOT

JOT

Animator Nate Pacheco has posted two must-see episodes of the early-1960s cartoon series JOT. He calls it one of his biggest sources of inspiration. JOT is certainly one of the most underrated cartoon shows ever produced and it’s nice to see it getting some attention online.

What is most striking about these JOT episodes is how the storytelling is driven by the graphics and animation. For example, in the episode where Jot steals the toy, notice how the story is told almost entirely through visuals. The limited dialogue in the cartoon is integrated fluidly into the action and drives the story forward. Furthermore, the animators create personality through the animation, not through dialogue. Note the little Irish jig that Jot does after he gets out of school – completely unnecessary from a story standpoint, but a perfectly expressive moment that puts across Jot’s happy mood while going home from school. Watching the graphic storytelling in JOT reminds one of the anemic state of TV animation nowadays. Most contemporary shows produced by Nick, Cartoon Network and Disney look good superficially, but they rarely take advantage of the animation medium to tell stories visually, instead relying on the ‘talking-head’ TV animation formulas of Hanna-Barbera and Filmation with characters garrulously explaining every bit of action to audiences.

The production backstory of JOT is also pretty interesting. The reason the cartoon has such a strong religious theme is because it was produced for the Southern Baptist’s Radio and Television Commission. The show was created by Ruth Byers and Ted Perry. More history about the show can be found here and here. The company that produced the show was Keitz & Herndon, an animation studio located in Dallas, Texas. The studio was started in the early-1950s and the crew was comprised primarily of self-taught animators. Below is a photo of the studio founders, Larry Herndon (left) and Roddy Keitz. Herndon dealt primarily with the business aspects of the studio, while Keitz was the artistic director. Both of them still live in Texas.

Keitz and Herndon

Monday Morning Blues

Happy Feet and Over the Hedge

What a way to start the week – here’s the new trailer DreamWorks recently released for OVER THE HEDGE. I’m speechless, but fortunately for audiences, the characters in the film are not. If anybody’s idea of animated entertainment is listening to ninety minutes straight of over rehearsed lines by Wanda Sykes, Garry Shandling and Steve Carell, then this film surely won’t disappoint.

And here’s the third trailer Warner Bros. has released for HAPPY FEET. It features:
The vocal “talent” of Robin Williams.
Super-realistic (i.e. super-boring) penguin designs.
Creepy stilted (mo-cap?) animation.
Looks like some filmmaker has discovered the magic formula to CG success.

HORNSWIGGLE UPDATE

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I’ve been periodically posting the progress of my very own six minute cartoon on a separate blog.Frederator Studios is producing 39 such shorts for a new series on Nickelodeon (Fall 2006 or sometime in 2007). All 39 creators are doing blogs and documenting their productions online. There are some real goodies in the works. Mine is HORNSWIGGLE, and it is being directed by Rich Arons (Tiny Toons, Animaniacs) and produced with Gang of 7 Animation in North Hollywood. The project is in post production this month and will be completed in early April. I’m very proud of the film, it’s shaping up very nicely. Obviously I’ll be promoting Hornswiggle much more as we get closer to its airdate – I’m planning some limited edition promo pieces that I’ll be giving away at the San Diego Comic Con (and on Cartoon Brew). More on that – and Hornswiggle – later.

Brad Bird’s Next Film Announced

HUGE news out of the Walt Disney Co.’s shareholders’ meeting today! I’m surprised that nobody else has picked up on the story yet. Animation fan Daikun, who attended the meeting, took lots of notes about what was said and posted them HERE. The big news is that he says a trailer was shown for Brad (THE INCREDIBLES) Bird’s next film at Pixar. The film is RATATOUILLE, which will be released in summer 2007.

This is the first time that Bird’s name has been officially associated with the film. The original director of the film had been Jan Pinkava, who had helmed the Oscar-winning Pixar short GERI’S GAME. While modern Disney films often times have had the original director replaced during the course of production, I believe that this is the first time a Pixar film has not had its original director see the film through completion. It obviously raises a lot of questions about what happened, but with Brad Bird directing, I think we can all be assured that the film is in good hands.(Thanks, Graham Finch)

UPDATE 2: Local 839 president Kevin Koch offered a brief comment about RATATOUILLE on the Animation Guild blog. He wrote: “I’d heard a few weeks ago that the film was having some problems, and that Brad had been called in for a major revision, but I figured they’d find a way to keep Jan Pinkava (original director) a part of things.”

UPDATE 1: I received a couple of emails pointing out that this is not the first time a Pixar film has changed its original director. That precedent was set on TOY STORY 2, on which John Lasseter assumed directing duties midway through production.

DISNEY’S FIRST BUSINESS CARD ON EBAY

disney card

Incredible find on eBay – Walt Disney’s 1923 business card. From the listing:

This business card was found in a career scrapbook compiled by Bert Sylvester of Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Sylvester founded one of the first electrical lighting companies in L.A. during the Silent period. Bert Sylvester was right in the center of moviemaking during the early Hollywood years and would very easily have known and worked with Walt Disney in any number of ways. Since the card still has Walt Disney’s Kansas City address, it is likely that he handed this out when he first arrived in L.A. in 1922-1923.

On the flip side, also on eBay is animator Fred Kopietz’ rather dull business card from Walt Disney Productions in the 1960s.

Gordon Parks’s Animation connection

japanprincess.jpgThe passing of legendary American photographer/filmmaker Gordon Parks reminds me of an interesting fact I learned while researching my upcoming book CARTOON MODERN. Parks’s first film, the documentary FLAVIO (1964), was produced by the animation studio, Elektra Films, in New York. The studio was one of New York’s most well regarded commercial animation studios in the late-50s and early-1960s and pretty much anybody who was somebody on the East Coast animation design scene worked there at some point. It was started by former UPA artist Abe Liss, who had done layout on a number of the early Mister Magoo shorts in LA. He had also been the creative director of UPA-NY and Transfilm prior to starting Elektra in 1956 with business partner Sam Magdoff.

It’s unclear how Liss and Parks got connected though they shared similarly tough Depression-era upbringings. Both of them came from working class families and had done back-breaking work in the Civilian Conversation Corps during the mid-1930s (though not together). May Liss, Abe’s wife, told me that Liss had been heavily involved in the production of FLAVIO, particularly because Parks had no prior filmmaking experience. The film was among a number of eclectic independent and commissioned film projects that Liss undertook beginning in the late-1950s. He certainly could have gone in some interesting directions both as filmmaker and producer, but unfortunately, Liss died in December 1963 from a heart attack, right around the time of FLAVIO’s completion. Parks was one of the speakers at his memorial service.

A Wayans Thought

You know what I was thinking the other day?
That one or more of the Wayans brothers should create an animated cartoon.
And they should call their cartoon something really stupid, like THUGABOO.
And that this cartoon should look incredibly incompetent, like it was drawn by high school students during after-school detention. Something along these lines…

thugaboo.jpg

Well, what do you know! Thank you Nickelodeon for being so in tune with my innermost thoughts.

95-Year-Old Homeless Disney Animator

I love feel-good stories like the one that ran in yesterday’s MONTREAL GAZETTE (the article is unfortunately not online). The piece is about Jack Dunham, a 95-year-old former animation artist who gave up his apartment last month. Both he and his wife are homeless now. The article doesn’t explain whether he was forcibly evicted from his home or not, but it’s still depressing as hell. In the 1930s, Dunham worked at Disney and Lantz. I can’t find any record of him at Disney because he was probably only an assistant, but he’s in this early-1930s Lantz photo. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

[Dunham] created the St. Hubert Chicken [St. Hubert Bar B-Q is a chain of restaurants in Québec, the first restaurant being on St. Hubert St.; the chicken is shown on their webpage]. But Dunham, a former Walt Disney Studios artist, is old and a bit frail now; instead of throwing the bawk-bawk-bawk at him, perhaps we should forgive Dunham his red-thatched trespasses.

He’ll be 96 in September. Where he’ll be celebrating his birthday is uncertain, because Dunham and Dorothy Stewart, the former New York fashion model to whom he’s been married for 51 years, are homeless.

Since giving up their St. Marc St. apartment in early February, the Dunhams have been staying at St. Luc Hospital. Social service agencies are trying to place the couple in a care facility, but that could take awhile.

The article also has this priceless quote from Dunham: “I was 6-foot-4 as a teenager and I was still 6-foot-4 when I was 90. But then I started to lose height. I’m about 6 feet, and I weight 125 pounds, down from 250 when I was 90. I told my wife that at this rate, she’ll be able to carry me around in her purse.”

(Thanks, Craig)

Tales of Worm Paranoia and Buy One, Get One Free

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I’m not sure how many folks are aware of this, but there’s interesting and rare animation popping up almost daily now on YouTube. For example, I recently spotted a couple of the best shorts produced for Hanna Barbera’s mid-90s shorts series WHAT-A-CARTOON (aka World Premiere Toons), an idea of then-Hanna Barbera president Fred Seibert. TALES OF WORM PARANOIA, was directed by the one and only Eddie Fitzgerald, and it has some of the fullest and most interesting animation in the entire series. Eddie spoke about his experiences making the film here and here. The other short, BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE, was written and directed by Don Shank, Charlie Bean and Carey Yost. The talent on this short was unbelievable – besides the capable trio of Shank, Bean and Yost, other artists who pitched in include Scott Wills, Bob Jaques, Chris Reccardi, Lynne Naylor, Mike Fontanelli, Jim Smith, Craig McCracken, Mucci Fassett, Dave Wasson, Julian Chaney and Rob Renzetti. I can’t even imagine how it’s possible to use so many great artists for one seven-minute short. The production values speak for themselves though and there’s some solid design and layout throughout.

TALES OF WORM PARANOIA

BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE

(TALES OF WORM PARANOIA poster at top via Frederator)

RANDOM TREASURES

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I recieved a 300 page full color auction catalog in the mail yesterday and have been mesmerized by it for several hours. It’s an auction of various collections (buttons, postcards, toys, advertising items, World’s Fair memoribilia, etc.) compiled by adman Roger Steckler for Random Treasures Auctions. 2500 lots being auctioned off over four nights. It closes next week. Check this BETTY BOOP wall fixture, this bizarre MICKEY MOUSE ashtray and a set of rare 1930s cartoon buttons (pictured above). Amazing stuff – Worth a browse!

CARTOON BREW FILM OF THE WEEK: Suburban Harmony

Suburban Harmony

This Flash-animated music video for Telemetry Orchestra’s song “Suburban Harmony” is one of my favorite music videos of recent months. It was created by London-based Australian Steve Scott, who is also a member of the band. The video is pretty clearly a tribute to Heinz Edelmann’s production design for THE YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968), with touches of other late-60s graphic styling like Terry Gilliam’s animated films and the illustrations of New York design studio Push Pin. You can read more about Scott’s work at Cold Hard Flash or check out his animation/illustration portfolio at SteveScott.com.au.

Blogs, Blogs, Blogs

LEONARDO by Jim Capobianco

Pixar story artist Jim Capobianco is working on a personal hand-drawn short called LEONARDO and he’s almost done with the rough animation (image above). He tells me the film should be finished by mid-2007. Keep up with the production HERE.

Japanese illustrator Toru Fukuda, previously mentioned here, has started this blog, where he’s posting all types of fun things that inspire him.

There’s some nice drawings on the blog of animation artist Stephen Nicodemus. Also, check out this slick series of bgs he painted for the new Cartoon Network series MY GYM PARTNER’S A MONKEY.

Former Spumco comrades Gabe Swarr and Wil Branca have started blogging.

Mario by Gabe Swarr

HARRYHAUSEN IN DALLAS

To all our friends out in Dallas, Texas – take note: legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen will be discusing his craft and career on Thursday, March 30, 2006, 7:00 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center, Mockingbird Station, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane in Dallas. Harryhausen will be interviewed by producer, Arnold Kunert, followed by a question and answer period. After the event, Mr. Harryhausen will autograph copies of his new book. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door or in advance at www.abunchofshortguys.com. For the diehard fans, a limited number of VIP tickets are available to the pre-event reception at 6:00 p.m., the opportunity to meet Mr. Harryhausen, and reserved seating for the event.

REN & STIMPY Censored in the UK

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The blog Lyris-Lite is reporting that the British Board of Film Censors, the equivalent of the MPAA in the US, has censored over 3 minutes of an upcoming dvd release of REN & STIMPY seasons 1 and 2. The censored segment is the “Hanging Song” from the episode OUT WEST, which was cut because “the subject of hanging is presented as comedic, fun and risk free, on the grounds of potential harm to the likely audience and in accordance with the Video Recordings Act 1984.” More details HERE.

UPA Tribute in LA

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The Egyptian Theatre website has posted more information about their highly anticipated UPA tribute taking place Sunday, March 26. It’s going to be a real treat to see these wonderfully designed cartoons on the bigscreen – the way they were meant to be seen. Here’s the info on the line-up of speakers. I feel humbled to be included with such amazing company:

In-between the films, animation historian and author, Jerry Beck, will moderate two panels about the studio and its films. Veteran UPA animators and designers including Bill Melendez, Alan Zaslove, Willis Pyle, Fred Crippen, and Sam Clayberger will be joined by contemporary animator Mark Kausler (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LION KING), Lou Romano (production designer of Pixar’s THE INCREDIBLES) and author/historian Amid Amidi (CARTOON MODERN: STYLE AND DESIGN IN FIFTIES ANIMATION, Chronicle Books).

Thomas Kinkade Exposed

The LA TIMES tore painter Thomas Kinkade a new one with yesterday’s article about his crude behavior and shady business practices. As far as I’m concerned, Kinkade is to fine art what Shag is to “pop surrealism”: a mediocre and formulaic artist who has tapped into a very specific market and snookered that fanbase into believing that his work has some kind of merit. The piece mentions that Kinkade had worked in animation prior to becoming a ‘fine artist’, which is something I wasn’t aware of. A quick search online reveals that he was a background painter on Ralph Bakshi’s FIRE AND ICE (1983). The TIMES piece also has this anecdote about Kinkade’s “territory marking” habits:

And then there is Kinkade’s proclivity for “ritual territory marking,” as he called it, which allegedly manifested itself in the late 1990s outside the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

“This one’s for you, Walt,” the artist quipped late one night as he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure, said Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Kinkade’s company, in an interview.

(Use BugMeNot to bypass LA TIMES registration.)

Aardman and Canemaker Win Oscars

Congrats to our friend John Canemaker for winning the Best Animated Short Oscar, for his film THE MOON AND THE SON: AN IMAGINED CONVERSATION, and to Nick Park, Steve Box and Aardman for winning Best Animated Feature for WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. Interesting to note that neither winner was CG: one is a hand-drawn film and the other stop motion. Great animation can be produced with any technique, despite what industry executives would like you to believe.

PLATFORM

platformlogo1.jpgThe biggest animation event of 2007 – in the United States – was formally announced this weekend.The Platform International Animation Festival will make its debut in Portland, Oregon during June 25-30th 2007 and its goal is to become America’s version of Annecy and Zagreb – an international animation competition with retrospectives, panels and special events. The festival has just opened offices in Portland and North Hollywood and has already started preliminary plans for programming and publicity. And they are off to a good start.Animation producer Irene Kotlarz has been appointed Festival Director. Irene was Director of the Cambridge, Bristol, and Cardiff International Animation Festivals in Britain. Marilyn Zornado, animator and producer at Will Vinton Studios, is Festival Coordinator. A website will debut this summer. Cartoon Network has signed on to financially back this event.Personally, I’m very excited about this project. An annual U.S. animation festival has proven difficult to maintain without the kind of government support international festivals regularly receive. Having been involved with several Los Angeles Animation Celebrations, and as a guest programmer at Annecy and Ottawa, I know the hard work that will be involved here. Amid and I have been in contact with Irene and Marilyn and plan to have some role in planning tributes and retrospectives.To be continued…

OSCAR TIME!

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Tomorrow night is Oscar night and nothing seems as certain as the WALLACE & GROMIT win. However, the only suspense around here is for who will win the award for animated short. They are all outstanding, and the winner will seem obvious in hindsight.John McElwee on his Greenbriar Picture Shows blog takes an affectionate look at how RKO and MGM touted their Oscar winning cartoon characters with ads in Hollywood trade magazines 60 years ago.

Weekend Animation Notes

Finally, an animation executive salary increase that’s actually deserved.

Anime has arrived in Iraq, otaku will follow.

Nick Park on the Oscars: We’re animators, we’re not used to getting out of our dark studio and meeting real people, let alone glamorous and attractive ones

CNN does an article about all the crap CG-animated features scheduled for release in 2006. “Hollywood has never been bashful about its own competence,” says Dennis McAlpine, an independent media analyst. “If studios see somebody else do something, they think they can do it better. But it’s not as simple as it looks — the story has to attract people.”