Cartoons And Janet Klein

Thursday night, August 3rd, in a small theatre in Hollywood I will be projecting several celluloid 16mm cartoons as the “opening act” of a live-action, in-person, performance by Janet Klein And Her Parlor Boys. Long time readers of this blog know by now that I do this the first Thursday of every month at the Steve Allen Theatre (4773 Hollywood Blvd. two blocks west of Vermont), in the lovely Los Feliz area. Cartoons to be screened this month include Love Krazy (a bouncy Krazy Kat cartoon), You Took The Words Right Out Of My Heart (a Max Fleischer Screen Song), and Voodoo In Harlem (a jazzy Walter Lantz musical cartune). The show starts at 8pm. Please check Janet’s website (under “Showtime”) for even more details and nifty vintage artwork. See you there!

ANIMANIACS DVD CONTEST!

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Narf! Tomorrow morning (Tuesday) we will give away a few copies of the brand new ANIMANIACS and PINKY AND THE BRAIN dvds to several lucky Cartoon Brew readers.These two dvd collections were released last week and Warner Home Video is graciously supplying us with a few copies to give away as prizes. Are you a PINKY or a BRAIN? We will hold a quick cartoon trivia contest tomorrow (at 9am Pacific Time) and the first two BRAINS will get the PINKY AND THE BRAIN set. The next two BRAINS will get an ANIMANIACS collection. And the next six PINKY’S will get my home made WORST CARTOONS EVER collection (2006 edition). So get a good night’s sleep and see you here at 9am. “Those are the facts!”

A Letter to Mick LaSalle

Pixar story artist Jeff Pidgeon wrote a letter to SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE movie reviewer Mick LaSalle, in which he completely dismantled LaSalle’s inept review of MONSTER HOUSE and exposed his utter cluelessness about the animation art form. Jeff has posted the excellent letter on his blog HERE. He also posted LaSalle’s brush-off response, which was:

Thank you for a thoughtful message. I appreciate it. (Don’t agree with it, any of it, but I appreciate being accurately quoted and not being cursed at.)

Earlier posts about Mick LaSalle: 1, 2, 3, 4

Non-Surprise of the Week

So, ANT BULLY tanked. The Warner Bros.-distributed, Tom Hanks-produced film collected a meager $8.1 million (estimate) from 3,050 theaters, or as Box Office Mojo puts it, “the weakest start ever for a high profile computer-animated feature.” I’d predicted this film would flop back in June and I think most everybody else in the industry had similar feelings about ANT BULLY’s prospects for success. WB, however, had been expecting a stronger opening for the film. Warners distribution exec Jeff Goldstein commented yesterday about the film, “It’s much less than what we had wanted. The marketplace is crowded. The kids have been bombarded.”

COMIC CON RECAP #3: A COMIC BOOK REVIEW

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I’m still going over the booty I obtained at the San Diego Comic Con last weekend. One thing I didn’t devote enough time to at the Comic Con was actually buying comics. I picked up a scant few. My favorite purchase was a well worn copy of BLUE RIBBON COMICS #1 (St. John, 1949). The cover logo actually reads TERRYTOONS PRESENTS HECKLE AND JECKLE, and I believe it’s the first solo comic book for the talking magpies.This particular book contains four stories – two drawn by background painter Art Bartsch and two by director Connie Rasinski. Rasinski’s Terrytoon comic book art is wonderful. His drawings have a handsome, controlled zaniness (as opposed to the raw unrestrained work of the great Jim Tyer) that point to what the screen Terrytoons could have been like if they had the money and time to make them better. The two stories by Bartsch are adaptations of animated cartoons. The first one, “Mind Over Matter” (panels pictured above), is an adaption of the 1949 meta-cartoon THE POWER OF THOUGHT, in which Heckle & Jeckle develop mental telepathy upon the realization that they are cartoon characters. The other Bartsch story, “Sour Grapes”, rips off Tashlin’s Columbia cartoon THE FOX AND THE GRAPES (1942) with H&J in the Crow role, versus Terrytoon bit-player Slyvester the Fox.The only comic books I’m actively collecting these days are ones with comic art by animation artists. This includes a wide array of titles ranging from DC’s FOX & CROW and FUNNY STUFF titles (with art by Otto Feuer, Jim Davis, Bob Wickersham, etc.), to Harvey’s Paramount comics (drawn by Dave Tendlar, Steve Muffatti, Bill Hudson, Marty Taras, etc.). As much as I like watching the animators art on a frame by frame basis, the strong poses in each comic panel of these 40s and 50s comic books are a pleasure to look at – and incredibly entertaining.

KING LEONARDO ON BLACK FAMILY CHANNEL

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Classic cartoons (and by that I mean the wide swath of animation history from 1906 to its dying days in the 1970s) are practically extinct on current broadcast and cable television program schedules. That’s why news of an animated character’s revival, or the spotting of a vintage cartoon short, is now considered a big deal to some of us (at least to me). Over on the Animation History Forum, a reader named “Troop” accidentally found a new outlet for an old favorite:

On Saturday morning, I was looking for something to watch and happened upon the Black Family Channel …part of my digital cable package. I was delighted to see KING LEONARDO AND FRIENDS playing there at 9:30 a.m. I came in on the middle of one of the segments featuring “The Hunter” and stayed thru the final King Leonardo and Odie cartoon. It was great seeing this again after “many years”. The print wasn’t the greatest, but watchable… and it was great hearing Jackson Beck again. I noticed Chuck McCann listed in the voice talents as well.Following this was something called BFC FUN FARM which featured short farm and animal segments with two youngsters introducing old PD WB cartoons. During the half-hour yesterday, typical PD prints aired of Porky’s Cafe, Farm Frolics and Yankee Doodle Daffy. Some of the channels’s promos aired clips of “Tennesee Tuxedo” and “Underdog” but I couldn’t find them listed in their web schedule…just “King Leonardo” everyday of the week at 9:30 am with “BFC Fun Farm” at 10 a.m. The BFC web schedule holds this schedule until this coming Saturday, August 5th when “Leonardo” and “Fun Farm” move forward to 9 and 9:30 a.m. and “Bullwinkle and Friends” is added to the schedule at 10 a.m.

Well that’s good news. As the saying goes, old cartoons never die – they just end up on the Fun Farm on the Black Family Channel.

The Friz Freleng Blog-A-Thon

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Brian of the Hell on Frisco Bay blog notes that August 21, 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of Friz Freleng’s birth, and he’s officially calling on the blogging community to make that day a Friz Freleng Blog-A-Thon. Here’s Brian’s rules:

I invite anyone, whether animation experts, enthusiasts or newbies, fans of Freleng or not, to watch or rewatch at least one of his cartoons between now and August 21. On that day, post something about Freleng or one or more of his films on your website, and send me the link. You may name the cartoon(s), character(s), or aspect(s) of Freleng’s style you want to discuss in the comments section below, or leave it as a surprise for the rest of us.

Sounds like fun. We’re in at Cartoon Brew…who else is in?

The Parade of Ignorance Continues

From Paul Johnson’s invented history of the Disney strike to Mick LaSalle’s broad dismissal of a hundred years of animation accomplishments, it’s been a busy week for keeping track of misinformed animation commentary. Jaime Weinman has written a nice summary of what’s been said and explores the root cause of such statements.

There’s also a great thread going on at the CGTalk forums about Mick LaSalle’s comments. In that thread, Pixar lighting artist Jeremy Birn points out a link to A.O. Scott’s review of MONSTER HOUSE in the NY TIMES, where Scott pulls a “Mick LaSalle” and exhibits a similarly woeful lack of understanding about the animation medium. He writes:

Like Robert Zemeckis’s “Polar Express,” “Monster House” (for which Mr. Zemeckis served as an executive producer) uses the digitally captured movements of real actors rather than computer-generated algorithms as the basis for its animated images.

If Scott had any intention of writing with accuracy, he would have compared the digitally captured movements of real actors to the work of computer animators, not to “computer-generated algorithms” which implies that CG animation is an automated process created by a machine. To their credit, Mick LaSalle and A.O. Scott at least know they’re watching computer animation, which is more than can be said for USA TODAY’s Scott Bowles, who describes MONSTER HOUSE as “stop-motion animaton.” How are we supposed to take the opinions of critics like A.O. Scott and Scott Bowles seriously when they can’t even get their facts correct about how animated films are produced?

MEDICAL TOONS

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Rarely screened historic medical cartoons will be featured in a film series this fall at the National Academies in Washington DC. The Cartoon Medicine Show: Animated Cartoons from the Collection of the National Library of Medicine, curated by Michael Sappol of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), will feature a good sampling of rarely screened animated medical cartoons from the 1920s to the 1960s. The films will be presented in a two-day series, Oct. 25 – 26, at the National Academy of Sciences Auditorium, each night at 6pm. Films scheduled include Disney’s silent-era Tommy Tucker’s Tooth (1922) and Clara Cleans Her Teeth (1926), Hugh Harman’s Winky The Watchman (1945), Cleaning Mess Gear (1945, U.S. Navy) and Use Your Head (1945, U.S. Navy) and UPA’s A Few Quick Facts: Fear (Private Snafu, 1945, Zack Schwartz), Swab Your Choppers (1946, U.S. Navy) and Man Alive (1952, American Cancer Society).Also on the program are two Bell Science films: Hemo the Magnificent (1956, Shamus Culhane) and Gateway to the Mind (1958, Chuck Jones) and well as several Private Snafu cartoons: Gripes (1943, Friz Freleng), Private Snafu Versus Malaria Mike (1944, Chuck Jones), and It’s Murder She Says (1945, Chuck Jones). Other wartime films include Strictly Personal (1945, Army Signal Corps), The Inside Story (1944, Paramount Pictures for the U.S. Coast Guard), Criminal at Large (1943, Office of Malaria Control, United States Public Health Service). Post war films include: The Appraisal of Competency (1956, Nebraska Psychiatric Institute), Fluoridation Story (1951, Public Health Service, Division of Dental Public Health) and a set of TV spots (1955-1959) for the American Dental Association.Animation historian Donald Crafton (Before Mickey) and medical historians Michael Sappol and David Cantor will provide commentary.National Academy of Sciences
2100 C St., N.W., Auditorium
Washington, D.C.
Admission: free. Seating is limited. RSVP to [email protected] or 202-334-2436(Thanks, Karl Cohen)

Cartoon Brew Reader Survey

Federated MediaWe recently signed on with John Battelle’s Federated Media to represent us for online advertising. Federated is a boutique ad rep representing only a limited number of blogs with strong author-driven voices, including sites such as BoingBoing, MetaFilter and Digg. We’re proud to be associated with them. To help us gain a more accurate sense of who’s reading Cartoon Brew and so that Federated can get us ads geared to stuff that we like, please take a moment to fill out this SURVEY here. The survey is completely anonymous and takes only a few minutes to fill out. We’re going to run it for a couple weeks, and if there’s any interest afterwards, we’ll share the compiled statistics with everybody.

Real Animation Acting

MONSTER HOUSE vs. Bugs Acting

Thad Komorowski has posted three examples of animation acting – one each from Disney, WB and MGM – all created without the aid of rotoscoping or performance capture. The foolishness of commentaries by critics like Mick LaSalle and James Lipton becomes only more evident when they are presented with actual examples of the animation medium’s expressive potential. LaSalle believes that the animated film has never “had the ability to show the human face. There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film — there was never really anything to see.” Really, Mr. LaSalle? I think Rod Scribner and Bob McKimson proved you wrong about sixty years ago, as evidenced in the clip from TORTOISE WINS BY A HARE. James Lipton thinks that Robert Downey rotoscoped is a better performance than anything an animator could create. Perhaps he should look at Ken Muse’s anguished animation of Tom in HEAVENLY PUSS. We haven’t even begun to examine all the stellar animation in feature films, but even in these short films, the inanity of LaSalle and Lipton’s opinions are exposed.

Mick LaSalle on THE POLAR EXPRESS

I didn’t think of doing this but somebody found Mick LaSalle’s review of THE POLAR EXPRESS. An excerpt is below. If anything can be said to his credit, LaSalle is consistent…well, consistently blind.

It’s also an enchanting, beautiful and brilliantly imagined film that constitutes a technological breakthrough. The one profound limitation of animation — the rigid faces that don’t allow for emotional nuance — is overcome through a new process that allows actors to record their performances digitally onto a computer. These performances — the gestures, the subtleties of facial expression — are then used as the template for the computer-animation process.

It reminds me of Ward Jenkins’s classic blog post about POLAR EXPRESS and how it could have been improved.

Film Critics, Part II

A Scanner Darkly

It looks like the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE’s Mick LaSalle isn’t alone when it comes to film critics who make uninformed sweeping generalizations about the animation art form. Take for example this recent comment (found on Shannon Tindle’s blog) by INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO host James Lipton regarding the use of rotoscope in A SCANNER DARKLY:

In theory, if you rotoscope a really good performance by a really good actor, it ought to be much more effective than an animated performance that’s been drawn or computer generated to match a voice.”

Lipton’s comment reveals a very obvious bias: he believes that an animator is incapable of creating a performance that can compete with a live-action performance. Ironically, Lipton asserts that the only way to achieve a great performance in animation is to have it performed by a live-action actor and then rotoscoped, or in other words, remove the animator as the person who gives life to the character. Comments like Lipton’s and LaSalle’s only serve to illustrate the uphill battle that the art form still faces; with so many stellar examples of animation created over the years, there are still plenty of critics out there who maintain their petty prejudices about the art and remain largely oblivious to animation’s unique and powerful qualities as a communication medium.

UPDATE: Animator Kevan Shorey offers his thoughts on Lipton’s quote and the frustation of working in a medium that is so poorly understood by the mainstream.

James Jarvis in LA

Tomorrow evening, July 28, illustrator/toy designer James Jarvis will be having an art show/book signing at Meltdown Comics (7522 Sunset Blvd., LA, CA 90046) from 6-10pm. On display will be numerous pages of development and prepatory drawings (example below) from his recent book project VORTIGERN’S MACHINE AND THE GREAT SAGE OF WISDOM. Reportedly, there’s interest right now in transferring Jarvis’s work to animation. His drawings and toys definitely lend themselves to CG design, and I can imagine his stuff working well if it was animated properly. For more info about the show, visit MeltComics.com or call 323/851.7223.

James Jarvis sketches

1936 ARTICLE ON FLEISCHER 3-D SETS

popularscience2.jpgOne of my last-second purchases on Sunday, just before I left the San Diego Comic Con, was snagging this copy of the November 1936 issue (at right) of POPULAR SCIENCE magazine. I love old magazines. This one was in a stack of several PS issues, but it had an article that totally justified the $15 price tag: two pages describing the mechanics of Max Fleischer’s patented three dimensional Stereo-Optical Process.Fleischer Studios isn’t even mentioned in the piece, albeit Max is refered to in the last sentence. But among the great graphics and interesting tidbits, the article reveals:

“Several sets can be prepared on the rotating table at the same time. As soon as the filming of one set is completed, the table can be swung to the next.”

The level of detail in these sets has always amazed me. The shots usually last only several seconds – but always ignite gasps of awe from audiences, even today. In fact, there’s nothing in computer graphics today that can compare to the magic in those Fleischer three dimensional sequences. I’ve scanned the article for you to read, below. Excuse the moray pattern which causes parallel lines to appear over the pictures. Click on each page for a larger image.

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A Monster of a Review

MONSTER HOUSE

A prominent Pixar animator emailed me last night with the subject header “This is real” and a link to this must-read-to-believe SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE review of MONSTER HOUSE. I don’t know anything about the reviewer, Mick LaSalle, except that I’ll never be able to take another word this guy writes seriously. It’s one thing to have a subjective view of a film – it’s another to be so glaringly ignorant of the art form you’re discussing to completely dismiss one hundred years of accomplishments and proclaim something so obviously inferior as a technological advance. Here is the most egregious part of LaSalle’s review:

Animated films always had the advantage of being able to go anywhere and show anything, to defy the laws of physics and follow the imagination as far as it could go. But they never had the ability to show the human face. There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film — there was never really anything to see. But with the motion-capture process, real actors give their performances with computer sensors attached to their face and body, and that recorded information becomes the template for the computer animation. If an actor is bug-eyed, the character will look bug-eyed. Moreover, if the actor is thinking or is full of doubt, the technology will be able to render subtle qualities of pensiveness or doubt in the animation.

Imagine what Disney might have done with this in the creation of the Seven Dwarfs. Imagine all the things that will be done with this in the future. “Monster House” looks like the ground floor of something important.

So the only question that remains is, Who’s going to break the news to Ollie Johnston, the last of the Nine Old Men, that all those classic Disney features he animated on were a waste of time because he never had the ability to show an emotive human face? Poor guy, if he’d only had motion-capture to help him animate.

UPDATE: Storyboard artist Jenny Lerew weighs in with an eloquent response to Mick LaSalle’s less-than-eloquent review.

NEW BOOK ON STOP MOTION

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Who says Stop-Motion is dead? I just got Ken Priebe’s great new book The Art of Stop-Motion Animation, and it pretty much details, step by step, everything you need to know to move clay, cut-outs, puppets and inanimate objects frame-by-frame in front of a camera. Over 300 color pages, loaded with great research (including a thorough overview of the history of stop motion shorts and features). Mike Johnson (co-director of Corpse Bride) wrote the Foreword, and a CD-Rom is included with helpful examples of stop-mo reference. If you are interested in making films, this book has a lot to offer.

COMIC CON RECAP #2: BECK INTROS SMIGEL

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One of the highlights of the San Diego Comic Con this year was my chance to play straight man for comic genius Robert Smigel. That’s me (“the nerdiest of the nerds”) on the right in the photo above (look close you’ll see my Oswald Rabbit and Hornswiggle buttons). To see a video of me and Triumph (the Insult Comic Dog) at the Con, go to http://www.nbc.com.(Thanks, Earl Kress)

John K. Saves San Francisco!

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The cult of John K. comes to the Bay Area.The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco is hosting a presentation by John Kricfalusi this weekend. A retrospective of Kricaflusi’s work, entitled John K. Saves San Francisco!, will also be screened at the Castro Theatre on Friday and Saturday, with separate kiddie-show and adult-skewed cartoon screenings.

The presentation at the Cartoon Art Museum will allow Kricfalusi’s fans to hear about his twisted animation experiences and meet the man himself in a unique meet-and-greet event, and give attendees a chance to ask questions or have their DVDs signed by this off-the-wall and talented artist. Visitors will also have the opportunity to win free screening tickets for the showing at the Castro Theatre that evening. Kricfalusi will also be donating a piece of his original art to the Cartoon Art Museum’s permanent collection. This event is free and open to the public, and co-presented by The Castro Theatre.

John K. will do live introductions for each cartoon Friday night at 8pm and Saturday night at 7pm. For more information on the Castro Theatre screenings and admission prices, contact 415-621-5288 or visit www.castrotheatre.com.

COMIC CON RECAP #1

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Here’s the first of several posts on a few of the experiences I had, and some of the stuff I got, at the San Diego Comic Con 2006. Above is a postcard found on the freebie table touting the release of POPEYE on DVD next year. Interestingly, the postcard was provided by King Features, not Warner Home Video. Glad to see such a teaser at this year’s event, but I’m hoping WHV pulls out the stops to promote Fleischer Popeye at next year’s Comic Con.I still collect promotional buttons, and the two best items I got this year were handed to me for free. At the HOT WHEELS booth on Sunday, Mattel Toys handed out these nifty “Matty Mattel” buttons (below left). Does anyone under the age of 45 even know who Matty Mattel is? Meanwhile, a few days earlier, fellow Random Cartoons creator Andrew Dickman (Ivan The Unbearable) was spotted wearing this promotional Disney Oswald button (below right). When I asked Andrew who was handing those buttons out, he generously gave his button to me (without me having to beg!). They weren’t given out at the con, but only at the Disney Studio, to Disney employees, the day Oswald was traded back several months ago. Needless to say, I was a very happy camper and wore it proudly all weekend.

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(Super-Thanks to Jon Reeves and Andrew Dickman)