Uli Meyer’s MONSTERMANIA!

MONSTERMANIA!

Congrats to Uli Meyer, owner of the London animation studio Uli Meyer Animation, who announced on his blog a few days ago that he’s starting production on his first independent animated feature MONSTERMANIA. Sounds like it has the potential of being a very fun film. Uli plans to complete it by 2008.

Here’s a few excerpts from the press release describing the project in greater detail. The full release is on Uli’s blog:

Uli Meyer Animation has started production on MonsterMania!, a fully computer-animated feature film comedy featuring the classic movie monsters. Scripted by award-winning British horror writers Michael Marshall Smith and Stephen Jones, based on an idea by Uli Meyer, Stephen Jones and Michael Marshall Smith, MonsterMania! has been in active development for the past three years at the company’s London-based animation studios.

MonsterMania! tells the story of young scientist Max van Helsing, who is plunged into an exciting and dangerous adventure by his late grandfather’s will. He embarks on a life-changing quest that takes him to the heart of the Eastern European country of Wallachia. There Max encounters the classic monsters, including Frankenstein’s creation, a werewolf, a lagoon creature and many other bizarre and creepy characters, as he sets out to save the girl of his dreams from the greatest evil the world has ever known . . . Vlad, Count Dracula!

Budgeted at $30 million, MonsterMania! is currently being storyboarded at Uli Meyer Animation as a co-production with India’s Ittina Animation Studios and Cinecarat, Switzerland.

Update on Animation Blast #9

Animation Blast 9

The boxes of the new issue of ANIMATION BLAST #9 are currently en route to Los Angeles, apparently on a very slow truck from Canada. According to my printer, I should expect them to arrive in LA by Thursday, August 17 at the latest. Today, I’ll be mailing about 40 issues of the BLAST. These are the issues that were left over from the first batch shipped over for the San Diego Comic-Con. With nearly 1000 folks who have pre-ordered or who had subscribed earlier, most people will have to wait a bit longer, but at least a few folks will be getting issues this week. Also, on my way back from San Diego, I dropped off issues to a few LA stores that I owed copies to – Meltdown, Golden Apple and House of Secrets. For those who haven’t pre-ordered yet, they each have a limited number of copies, if they haven’t already sold out. They’ll be getting more too once I receive the full shipment of issues next week.

Robert Zemeckis and Disney?

TMZ ran a breaking story yesterday that says Disney is courting Robert Zemeckis and his “uncanny valley” brand of animated filmmaking. I don’t know if this is true, and considering the story is from TMZ there’s reason to be skeptical, but it’s definitely troubling if the report turns out to be accurate. As somebody pointed out to me this morning, the only possible reason Disney should want to bring Zemeckis on board is to stop him from producing more animated films like POLAR EXPRESS. If anybody knows more about this rumor, we’d be curious to hear at the Brew. Here’s how the TMZ story begins:

In a move with broad implications for the future of the animation business, TMZ has learned that The Walt Disney Company has poached Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis from DreamWorks Pictures, and is a cat’s breath away from signing his ImageMovers production company to a multi-year deal at The Walt Disney Company’s Disney Pixar Animation.

(Thanks, Al Lutz)

Freddie Moore Slandered Again?

Jeff Lenburg’s new book WHO’S WHO IN ANIMATED CARTOONS apparently continues to perpetuate one of the big lies of animation history: that master animator Fred Moore died while driving drunk. It’s bad enough that Lenburg apparently has published this information in his book, but he’s also been receiving publicity for this “discovery.” Contact Music recently published an article as if this was news, and other media outlets have been picking up the story as well.

Lenburg is quoted in the article as saying, “Beset by drinking and personal issues, [Moore] died a few months later, unemployed and with no health insurance, after striking his head in his car while driving drunk. I thought it was pretty tragic, but he’s part of the Disney story.” Of course, newspaper accounts of the time tell us that Moore wasn’t even driving the car; his wife was driving. Perhaps Lenburg can share the new evidence he’s uncovered that says Moore was driving drunk at the time. The biggest irony here is that, according to Jeff Lenburg’s website, he recently wrote a book that teaches good research skills for writers.

Animator David Nethery, who pointed out this article to me, wrote a nice summation of why misinformation like this is unacceptable:

My understanding is that, yes, Fred had a definite problem with drinking too much alcohol, and was certainly “disciplined” by the Disney Studio on one or more occasions by being let go, but it seems that the stories about “Freddy the poor, washed-up drunk” have been greatly exaggerated over the years by a.) those who had a vested interest in downplaying Fred Moore’s giant contribution to the development of Disney character animation and b.) parroting of studio gossip from those within the animation industry and animation fandom who only had, at best, second or third hand knowledge of the events surrounding Fred Moore’s last years and his death. For this story to be spun again, in 2006, as something new, a “revelation” or an “expose” by Jeff Lenburg or anyone else seems to me to be an unnecessary tarnishing of a great talent’s legacy.

UPDATE #1: Jenny Lerew has more information about Moore’s death on her always excellent blog Blackwing Diaries.

UPDATE #2: Jim Korkis, one of the preeminent Disney historians of our time, sent in the following information about Moore’s death. I’d love to see Lenburg’s response to this. Korkis writes:

I am a big Fred Moore fan and it bothers me that the old canard of him dying as a result of being drunk is still being bandied about…especially in print. Here is the Truth About Freddy Moore’s Death:

Joe Campana ferreted out the actual truth through public records and according to those records Fred Moore actually died on Sunday, November 23, 1952 at 4:15 pm, at St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank (the same hospital where Walt would pass away in 1966), as a result of a head injury from a vehicle-on-vehicle collision the previous evening at Big Tujunga Canyon near the Angeles National Forest. Moore, 41 at the time of his death, was not at the wheel at the time of the accident; his wife Virginia who was 35 was driving and sustained minor injuries that were treated at St. Joseph’s. The couple had two daughters, Linda and Melissa.

The Moores were returning from a visit to Disney animation director Jack Kinney’s house to watch a college football game. (Jack Kinney had directed the “All The Cats Join In” sequence in “Make Mine Music” on which Moore had animated.) In fact, Joe confirmed that the USC-UCLA game had been played that day. The time of the accident and the location of the accident also seem to support this story. It is apparent that the Moores got disoriented while driving home and when they attempted to turn around to head in the opposite direction, the collision occurred.

The driver of the other car, Roy Sowles, died many years ago, and attempts to locate the other passenger, Jesse Sowles (probably Sowles’ son), who sustained minor injuries have not been successful. The original accident report does not appear to have survived, either, but Joe located a contemporary newspaper account of the accident as well as Moore’s death certificate listing the cause as “cerebral hemorrhage” and that an autopsy was performed and you linked to those documents in your comments.

UPDATE #3: Jenny Lerew has a slight correction to the information above. She writes:

Moore’s wife Virginia (driving the car in the accident) was his second wife (also named, as was his first, Virginia–strange but true). This Virginia #2 was NOT the mother of Fred’s two daughters, whose names were Melinda and Suzanne, not “Linda and Melissa”.

It’s All Around You

The FINAL DESTINATION 3 dvd which was released a couple weeks ago is notable for animation fans because it has an original animated short included as a special feature. The Flash animated cartoon – IT’S ALL AROUND YOU – was directed by Canadians Nick Cross and Helder Mendonca and thanks to some kind animation fan, it’s now been posted on YouTube. Animation, design, color and storytelling are all top-notch. And how often does that happen nowadays? Check out the film below.

DISNEY TREASURES: THE COMIC BOOK

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No, this isn’t a picture of the latest Disney Treasures DVD. It’s a new trade paperback from Gemstone Publishing, and another labor-of-love compiled by Gemstone’s Archival Editor David Gerstein (whose previous Mickey and the Gang: Classic Stories In Verse is a must-have). I did not grow up reading Disney comics myself (I was immersed in everything else, from Spider-Man to Baby Huey), but even back in those days I admired the stories and artistic skill of those books from afar.This new collection is truly special. In the tradition of the Maltin DVD collections, it compiles the best and most interesting examples of Disney comic art during the last 75 years and puts the stories in historical context. Gerstein begins the book with a detailed, yet concise, two page overview of the entire history of Disney comic strips and comic books. He then presents rare, restored Mickey newspaper strips from 1930 (by Floyd Gottfredson), prime examples of Sunday pages (including a rare Uncle Remus strip), and un-P.C. Carl Barks material that has never been reprinted. Great comics from Disney legends Paul Murry and Al Hubbard through the modern works of Don Rosa, William Van Horn as well as great European cartoonists like Cesar Ferioli and Vicar fill the 160 pages. I think anyone who loves Disney animation will enjoy this journey through their rich comics history. But if the names Walt Kelly, Gil Turner or Al Taliaferro mean anything to you, or if Bucky Bug, Gyro Gearloose or Super Goof rock your world, Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Comics 75 Years of Innovation is definitely for you.

Enough With the Talking Animals Already

In last Friday’s SLATE, Jill Hunter Pellettieri examined the ceaseless glut of talking animal movies being released by Hollywood animation producers. It’s not quite as incisive or hard-hitting as I would have liked such a piece to be, but it’s still worth a read. The article begins:

I’ll come clean: I’m a sucker for talking-animal movies. In fact, even a nonhuman talking object will do. But while I used to think anthropomorphization of any sort would give me my fix – whether a chubby sheep who hides sheepishly each time he’s shorn, or a penny who feels undervalued – Hollywood’s two latest attempts at the talking-creature genre, The Ant Bully and Barnyard, have made me doubt my faith forever. If the first half of the 20th century was the golden age of animation, I fear we’re now entering the Dark Ages.

Disney History Blog

Didier Ghez, editor of the fine WALT’S PEOPLE interview series, has started a blog called the Disney History Blog. He describes the site as “interesting discoveries about Disney history, vintage Disneyana, Disney artwork, the Walt’s People book series, and new books about Disney.” If the posts that Didier has made on the blog’s first day is any indication of what’s to come, he’s definitely got me hooked as a regular reader.

PASSION OF THE HAIRPLUGS

Warning: You may want to finish your morning coffee and doughnut before watching this one. Animation writer Dani Michaeli (SOUTH PARK) made this funny film a couple years back and it has regained a certain amount of relevance following Mel Gibson’s recent escapades. It is mostly filmed in real-time with minimal animation, but its sensibility is pure cartoon.

Milton Gray Discusses Animation Timing

If you read just one blog post this week, then please make it this one. In the post, Milton Gray, a timing director on THE SIMPSONS, discusses the awful cartoon timing on current TV productions, followed by an in-depth examination of the artistic timing in the classic Warner Bros. shorts, especially in the works of Bob Clampett.

Milt’s post is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the discussion of timing. Comedic animation timing and pacing are essentially extinct arts in today’s animation world, with every show relying on the exact same mechanical timing formulas. The current production process is so compartmentalized and out of whack that animation directors no longer even have to know how to animate or to understand how to time actions and pace scenes. And the results are woefully evident by watching any of the shows currently produced by Nick, Cartoon Network and Disney. It’s doubtful that animation timing will ever return to the heights of Golden Age animation, but Milt’s article provides at least a start towards understanding the importance of timing in animation.

Baxton Benefit Auction

Baxton Benefit Auction

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ICE AGE art director Brian McEntee writes to let me know of a good cause that’s bringing the animation community together. Martha Baxton, the longtime secretary of the CalArts Character Animation program, has been going through difficult times following a stroke that her husband Larry suffered. Former students are rallying together and holding a benefit auction next month to raise funds for her husband’s hospital bills. Martha is fondly remembered by CalArts grads, who call her the “backbone” and “heart and soul” of the animation program, and describe her as “the den mother” to the animation students.

The auction website has details about how to contribute artwork for the event. Here’s a bit more about the auction from the website:

There really are people in this world who give & give, never asking for anything in return. Martha Baxton is one of those people, and she has helped countless character animators start their careers. Martha did not give us art instructions, but what she gave us all was maybe more important: love, support and friendship. For countless students, there is simply no way we could have made it through CalArts without her.

Now, after doing so much for us, our friend needs help. Through our auction we hope to raise funds to help her pay off her husband’s mounting hospital bills. Be prepared to dig into your wallets to give what you can. It’s payback time for Larry & Martha!

(Auction poster above by Elizabeth Ito and Pen Ward)

ADOLF – DER BONKER

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Animated cartoons with a point of view on current world wars and the political scene are relatively scarce compared to the days of World War 2. Luckily, Adolf Hitler is still a villain we can all agree on. German cartoonist Walter Moers has taken on Adolf Hitler in comics, and now has a music video adapting his Adolf, Der Bonker which has been posted on the internet. It’s fun, and the tune is catchy. Here’s an English translation of the lyrics.(Thanks, Peter Krause)

Criticizing Animation Criticism

Inspired by Mick LaSalle’s MONSTER HOUSE review, Nick Tam has posted some excellent thoughts on today’s state of animation criticism. There are solid ideas throughout the piece, but I thought the following section stood out in particular:

I think that’s the problem with animation. It’s a technology story. The critics who mishandle it think about it as an experimental bastard-child offspring for kids, a testbed for ever-improving methods marching and heiling towards some indeterminate horizon of progress. The Hollywood execs play into their hands, and the end result is the flooding of the CG market that we’ve seen all year.

You’ll often hear the same films referred to over and over as being the landmark advances of the form. You’ll read that Steamboat Willie gave as sound as we know it, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was animation’s induction into feature-length territory, and Toy Story did the same for the digital age and shifted the mode of thought from drawing to sculpting. Framing the history of animation as a series of technological advances is really easy to do.

But it’s also a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. While these films were undoubtedly seminal in method, that’s not why we remember them. We remember them for the echoes of a wishing well and a toy in a spacesuit falling with style. That such masterworks of storytelling were also technical pioneers is a happy coincidence.

Paul Scheurich at Comic-Con

Paul Scheurich

Speaking of prints, the image above is a vintage lithograph that I picked up in San Diego (click on it for a larger version). The company that I purchased it from, Century Guild, had tons of these German lithos that were based on larger poster designs. It’s hard to believe that in the 1910s and 1920s, you could walk down a street in Germany and see illustrated posters like this plastered around town. The artwork is by Paul Scheurich (1883-1945), who apparently was one of the leading poster artists in Germany. I was surprised by how stylized it was for the time that it was done. Everything about it is just works: the guy’s funky posture and odd proportions, the bold colored shape that makes up his body without any use of line, the meaty hands with great line details, and the incredible design of his face (dig those dot eyes and wild nose shape). I have no idea what the poster is actually selling – maybe a German-speaking Brew reader can let us know – but I think the ad is great from a visual standpoint. Below are a few more Scheurich posters that I found online. Man, what I wouldn’t give to see an animated feature that looked this cool.

UPDATE – Brew reader Holger Pfläging offers a translation of the poster. He says: “The poster is advertising a company wich posts announcements and ads in the subways and elevated railways of I don’t know which German city. The upper card says: “Hollerbaum & Schmidt – Posters” the lower says: “Postings on elevated railway and subway – U. Thiemt & Co.” Thanks Holger!

UPDATE #2 – Florian Satzinger writes: “Thank you for this great post. Scheurich’s art reminded me of the Austrian artist Josef Danilotwatz (1877-1945). The atmosphere of Danilowatz’ “caricature paintings” and the feathery brush strokes are stunning. Last year we posted some of Danilowatz’ illustrations out of the book “Motor in der Karikatur – Ein lustiges Kinderbuch für Erwachsene”, ROB Verlag Vienna (1925), on our site HERE.

UPDATE #3 – Benjamin Leng and Patrick Walter both wrote to tell me the hilarious translation of the last Scheurich poster at the bottom of the post. It says, “Let’s go to the Butchery-Exhibition at the Zoo! There will be free sausage, beautiful bulls and fine piglets.”

UPDATE #4 – JJ Sedelmaier writes, “Regarding German poster design, check out the work of Ludwig Hohlwein. He’s the top! He influenced scads of his contemporaries and modern graphic designers as well, even the likes of Seymour Chwast. His breakdown of color and dramatic art direction is awesome! The ‘drawback’ is that much of the work towards the end of his career supported a politically incorrect cause (Hello, Adolf. . .)”

Paul Scheurich posters
– click on image above for larger version –

Scheurich posters

Fleet Street Scandal

Chris Turnham

The boys at Fleet Street Scandal – Kevin Dart and Chris Turnham – have posted a comprehensive set of photos from the Comic-Con with lots of animation folks that you’ll surely recognize. If Frank Espinosa’s comic ROCKETO was the hit of the 2005 Comic-Con among the animation set, I’d say Kevin and Chris were the hit of the ’06 Con. It seems everybody I ran into in San Diego had bought one of their illustration prints, and with good reason: both of these guys are super-talented with sophisticated graphic sensibilities combining good draftsmanship, color and design. I believe they do CG in the game industry, but they should be working in animation, and preferably producing their own independent animated shorts. Their prints can be purchased online at Fleet Street Scandal.

LE ROI ET L’OISEAU

Le roi et l'oiseau

Studio Ghibli has released Paul Grimault’s classic French feature LE ROI ET L’OISEAU onto dvd in Japan. The production story of this film is almost as convoluted and legendary as Richard Williams’s THIEF AND THE COBBLER. Grimault started the film in the late-1940s, and didn’t finish a version that he was satisfied with until 1979. Over the years, different cuts of the film have been released under titles like LA BERGERE ET LE RAMONEUR and THE CURIOUS ADVENTURES OF MR. WONDERBIRD. One of those earlier versions was an influence on Ghibli directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata when it opened in Japan in 1955. Now, as a way of saying thank you for the childhood inspiration, they’re introducing Grimault’s animation to a new generation of Japanese filmgoers.

Studio Ghibli is not only releasing LE ROI ET L’OISEAU onto dvd, but also giving it a limited theatrical run at the Cinema Angelica in Shibuya, Tokyo. It’ll run through September 22. In conjunction with the dvd release, there’s also a Paul Grimault exhibition at the L’Institut Franco-Japonais de Tokyo which runs through August 31. Ghibli has a website about the film HERE (in Japanese). Be sure to check out the film’s incredible TRAILER.

(via Anime News Service, thanks Terry)

Canada’s Mick LaSalle

Mick LaSalle is quickly becoming a household name; in the past week, his awful MONSTER HOUSE has been picked up all over the blogosphere including Boing Boing, Cinematical and SFist. Toronto-based writer Jason Anderson, apparently jealous of LaSalle’s infamy, decided to write his own article showing a profound lack of understanding about the animation art. Yesterday, he had an article published on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) website that explains to the world how MONSTER HOUSE and ANT BULLY are revolutionizing animated filmmaking. His classic line is that MONSTER HOUSE offers audiences a “taste of the future technologies that will someday make Pixar’s classics seem as quaint as Dumbo.”

Here are some of the choice cuts from Anderson’s piece:

“While Pixar set the standard, recent films like Warner Brothers’ The Ant Bully and Sony Pictures’ Monster House are pushing big-league Hollywood animation into promising new territory.”

“Though Cars has been a box-office leader this summer – second only to Disney’s live-action phenomenon Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Over the Hedge, The Ant Bully and Monster House strike a far better balance between form and content, tweaking the Pixar formula and moving beyond its limitations.”

“[MONSTER HOUSE] does, however, have the best-rendered cast of CGI Homo sapiens to date…”

“At the screening I attended, the children in my row frequently seemed to be on the edge of tears. Sure, they might require psychotherapy in later life, but they’re getting a taste of the future technologies that will someday make Pixar’s classics seem as quaint as Dumbo.”

(Thanks, Peter Fries)

ANIMANIACS/PINKY AND THE BRAIN TRIVIA CONTEST

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Are you a PINKY or a BRAIN?We had a contest this morning and the first ten readers who answered any one of the questions below won a DVD prize.

The questions (and answers) were:1. What Warner Animation employee’s caricature was the inspiration for the look of The Brain?
Answer: Tom Minton2. What is Brain’s country music name?
Answer: Bubba-bo-bob-Brain3. What famous film comedy is “King Yakko” loosely based on?
Answer: Duck Soup

THE CONTEST IS NOW OVER! No more entries accepted.The first two winning BRAINS were Tyler Sticka and D. Brown (who got the new PINKY AND THE BRAIN dvd Collection). The next two winning BRAINS were Scott Underwood and Robert Palmer who will get the ANIMANIACS collection). And the next six PINKYS were Jared Norby, Eric Emin Wood, Ellen Yu, Ralph Bingham, Alicia Wishart, and Michael Nusair – and they are getting my home made WORST CARTOONS EVER collection (2006 edition). PINKY AND THE BRAIN and ANIMANIACS are available from Warner Home Video at fine video stores near you. THE WORST CARTOONS EVER (2006) can be purchased here.(Thank you Earl Kress for providing the questions)