I’m telling you for the last time! Tomorrow afternoon, Saturday September 16th at 3:30pm, a once in a lifetime screening of all six Hollywood cartoons made in 3-D (featuring Popeye, Casper, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Donald Duck) – cartoons by Chuck Jones, Ward Kimball and Walter Lantz during the 1953-54 3-D movie craze – along with six other rareties from around the world, will be shown at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California. If you live in this area, I insist you attend. Due to the technicalities of showing these films, and the negotiations with the dozen copyright holders, this compilation of films will not be repeated anywhere in the world, ever. Here is a great way to see all of them in one sitting – and the chance to talk about it all afterward with a large group of likeminded folks.Join us!
Animation veteran Berny Wolf died last week at the age of 95. He had incredible success in the field, with work ranging from pioneering Fleischer silent cartoons through classic Disney features; and ultimately to a producing stint with Hanna Barbera. We asked animator and historian Mark Kausler to recount his amazing career:
Berny or Bernie Wolf started his animation career in New York City in 1924, inking on the silent Krazy Kat cartoons that Ben Harrison and Manny Gould released through Paramount. He got a job at Max Fleischer’s Inkwell Studios soon after, inking, maybe animating on the KoKo Song Cartoons, such as MOTHER PIN A ROSE ON ME (1924), GOODBYE MY LADY LOVE(1924), EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1926) and many more. He became friends with Shamus Culhane and Al Eugster at Fleischer’s. In Shamus’ book TALKING ANIMALS AND OTHER PEOPLE, Shamus relates the story of how the three amigos broke into animation on the Talkarartoon SWING, YOU SINNERS in 1930, although it appears that Berny may have animated before that. Berny became a Betty Boop specialist in the early 30′s, working on such cartoons as MINDING THE BABY (1931), BETTY BOOP’S BIZZY BEE (1932) and THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN (1933). The three musketeers then went west, winding up at Ub Iwerks’ studio and worked on the Willie Whopper series and ComiColor cartoons. Berny animated and designed characters with Grim Natwick on such cartoons as THE CAVE MAN (1934), VIVA WILLIE (1934), THE VALIANT TAILOR (1934) and SUMMERTIME (1935).By 1938, Berny, Al Eugster and Shamus Culhane had broken into the Disney Studio. One of Berny’s first cartoons there was DONALD’S NEPHEWS (1938). According to Shamus’ book, Walt made it hard for “old-timers” and ex-New Yorkers at his studio, chiding them for their “bad drawing habits” and training on “cheap productions”. Berny overcame this prejudice and animated Jiminy Cricket in PINOCCHIO (1940). Some of his scenes are Jiminy meeting the Blue Fairy in Sq. 1.5, Sc. 46, where he says “No tricks, now!”, Sq. 1.7, Sc. 59.7 where Jiminy dances with a music box doll and slyly says: “How about sittin’ out the next one babe, huh?” and Sq. 4.9, Sc. 17, where he emerges from a bird seed container in a cage and shyly speaks to the Blue Fairy (“This IS a pleasant surprise!”), tips his hat and gets a shower of bird seed pouring from the hat. Berny was one of the key animators on Jiminy, doing many such personality scenes, no doubt working closely with Ward Kimball. On FANTASIA, Berny worked on the Pastoral Symphony sequence, animating Fauns, Unicorns and the Centaurs and Centaurettes that Fred Moore designed. He animated a beautiful scene in part where the Centaurettes are dancing around Ward Kimball’s Bacchus, and a tender scene of a Centaur shielding a Centaurette from the raindrops at the beginning of the storm sequence. Berny also animated the famous scene at the end of the “romance of the Centaurs” sequence, in which the cupids close the curtains on the proceedings, leaving one cupid to peek through at the centaurs. His hovering buttocks form a heart. This scene infuriated critics such as James Agee, it was animated by Berny Wolf. By 1941, Berny seems to have fallen in estimation at Disney, he got one sequence in DUMBO, of the clowns bragging about their “coitain calls” in Sq. 14.1, all in silhouette. This is really an outstanding job of animation, though, as all the poses have to read solidly just in black, showing that Berny had good caricature and staging skills.After 1941, it appears Berny must have gone out in the famous Disney strike. He landed at MGM cartoons, doing layout and storyboard for Tex Avery. He was then drafted and wound up directing animation for the First Motion Picture Unit. After the war, Berny worked for Rudy Ising independently and headed up a company called Animedia Productions. He probably also got involved in the television commercials boom of the 1950s. In the 1980s, he produced such shows as THE FLINTSTONE KIDS, and THE SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES for Hanna-Barbera and worked as a Film Editor and Producer on a TV feature cartoon: THE LITTLE TROLL PRINCE in 1985. He would have been 74 then. I suppose Berny must have retired after that, as he disappears from the credit sheets. Evidently he kept up his artwork in his last twenty years, making many drawings and doing some painting.My only memory of Berny Wolf, is seeing him hanging out at the old Gus Jekel FilmFair studio, with his friend Rudy Zamora Sr. They probably worked at the Fleischer and Krazy Kat studios in New York together in the 1920s and 1930s.Berny Wolf obviously was a very talented animator who is largely forgotten today, due to the anti-New York, west coast prejudice, the fact that he was on the “wrong side” of the Disney strike and worked in limited TV animation. He had an amazingly long career, and by all accounts was a very nice man.
Berny Wolf holds a model sheet he drew with Grim Natwick
for the Willie Whopper cartoon The Cave Man (1934)
Photo from the collection of Mark Mayerson.
More Berny Wolf model sheets posted on the Asifa Hollywood Archive
Michael Sporn has a nice blog post today about John and Faith Hubley’s classic 1959 short film MOONBIRD. Sporn’s post includes some of Bobe Cannon’s original animation drawings, which are things of beauty. There’s also a surprisingly clean print of MOONBIRD available on YouTube. Animation is rarely this poetic or beautiful, but with Hubley and Cannon teamed up, one wouldn’t expect anything else. Enjoy.
In 1938, after Disney’s first feature SNOW WHITE was a bona fide success, Walt held a huge crew party for his artists at a place called the Norconian Club. The party lasted for two straight days so this was hardly your typical ‘wrap party’ where everybody leaves after receiving their crew jackets. Nobody knows exactly what happened at the party, but the stories are legendary: Freddie Moore falling out of a window, another artist riding a horse through the different floors of the club, and some other boisterous celebrations that were not exactly Disney-style family entertainment . A couple days ago, Steve Hulett of the Animation Guild blog wrote an interesting post about the party HERE and Mike Barrier recently posted on his site the program book for the event (it was called “Walt’s Field Day”). If other folks have documentation or first-hand accounts of this event, start blogging about it. It’s unlikely there’ll be another wrap party to rival this one anytime soon.
Last week in Hollywood was the premiere of the remastered version of Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID. At the premiere, there was a discussion panel with a few of the film’s key figures: directors John Musker and Ron Clements, Ariel animator Glen Keane, composer Alan Menken, Ariel voice Jodi Benson and live-action model Sherri Stoner. Somebody recorded the panel and posted it on YouTube. I put together a little playlist so you can watch all five parts below. While I can’t guarantee that the whole thing is actually worth watching, I’m sure there’s some fans of the film who’d like to check this out.
I just realized that I never did an announcement here on the Brew to let everybody know that my book CARTOON MODERN: STYLE AND DESIGN IN FIFTIES ANIMATION is officially out. Judging from the amount of emails I’ve been receiving about the book, this is not exactly news to a lot of you. But just in case, I want to point out that the book is now available at most Barnes & Noble and Borders around the country. It can also be ordered online at the following places:
Chronicle Books (my publisher likes this ordering option best)
Amazon (you, the consumer, would probably like this option best)
Bud Plant (everybody loves Bud)
Barnes & Noble
Strand Bookstore in New York (they also have a good discount on the book)
Powells in Portland
There’s lots more Fifties artwork and book event info at the Cartoon Modern blog.
It’s shaping up to be a solid fall season for animation book fans. Besides my own book, there’s a couple other promising titles that I have to mention. The first is Neal Gabler’s nearly 900-page Disney biography called WALT DISNEY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION. Says Ray Bradbury, “We’ve all been waiting for the perfect book on Walt Disney; it has finally arrived and Neal Gabler’s done it. Wonderful!” I’m looking forward to reading Gabler’s bio and then comparing it to Mike Barrier’s thoughts in his ambitious Walt bio scheduled for release in spring ’07. These two bios promise to open up some interesting debates and provide new insights into the life of one of animation’s greatest geniuses.
The other title I wanted to write about is Tom Sito’s DRAWING THE LINE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ANIMATION UNIONS FROM BOSKO TO BART SIMPSON. I saw this at the bookstore last week and almost started reading the whole thing in the store. With a topic as volatile as the labor history of the animation industry, it’s guaranteed to be filled with lots of juicy stories. Back in the late-90s, I attended some of Sito’s one-on-one ASIFA-Hollywood chats with various animation legends, and they were always educational and lots of fun. At these chats, Tom not only exhibited a superb understanding of this art form’s history, but he also knew the personal stories of all the artists and was armed with a seemingly endless supply of hilarious anecdotes and behind-the-scenes tales. I’m confident that his book will be similar to those chats: informative AND a lot of fun.
With the upcoming release of OPEN SEASON, all eyes are on Sony and whether its CG feature animation division will be a hit or a flop. The LA TIMES published an article on Monday that gave a little history of Sony Pictures Animation and offered some insight into how the studio operates. My impression is that Sony is very typical of other major US feature animation studios and that’s never a good sign. This part of the article caught my attention:
“I think that Sony is going to do big things, but they will really do bigger things when they start looking to artists for ideas and trusting the artists for those ideas,” said John Sanford, a former story artist at Sony Pictures Animation who was fired in July.
Sanford is one of several casualties of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” which has been heavily reworked and is now on its third set of directors.
A studio that discards directors so easily doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence because it makes clear that the development and execution of ideas are controlled by a force higher than the director. Similarly, a studio that has top-notch story artists working for it, yet doesn’t value their ideas and instead options flimsy children’s book stories, like CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, is fundamentally flawed and setting itself up for failure. It’s worth noting that on his personal blog, John Sanford says that the LA TIMES took his comments about Sony out of context, and that they didn’t quote the part when he said how great the artists at the studio were and how great OPEN SEASON is. While I don’t think there’s any question that OPEN SEASON will be at least moderately successful, it’s the exec-heavy organizational structure of the studio and the films that come after OPEN SEASON which worry me.
(Use BugMeNot if registration is required on the LA TIMES article.)
Over the past couple months, Hans Bacher (production designer, MULAN) has been posting some absolutely stunning concept art for a short film that he’s working on called AFTER MIDNIGHT. Bacher says that though the film will be in 3D, it will retain the painterly, textural approach seen in these development pieces. He writes on his blog that the short is currently being produced by a Tokyo animation studio. Here are links to the development art from the short:
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER reports that brothers Paul and Ga”tan Brizzi, most famous for directing the “Firebird Suite” in FANTASIA 2000, will be writing and directing the animated film RUBY TUESDAY, featuring twelve songs by the Rolling Stones. According to the REPORTER, the story is “a Faustian tale of a single mother searching for happiness in New York.” The project was initiated by the Brizzis, who approached Jagger’s camp with the idea. Filmmaker Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp is co-producing, financing and distributing the film, which is set for 2008 release. Few details have been announced about the project though it certainly sounds intriguing. And I can’t help but point out that it’s yet another example of how the most mature and distinctive animated features are originating out of Europe and Japan and not the US.
Even though I’ve mentioned this before, I think it’s worth doing so again. Disney story artist Mark Kennedy has been posting an excellent series of tips on drawing and design. His latest entries are about proportion and rhythm in drawing. A lot of the lessons should be obvious to anybody who draws, but it never hurts to get a refresher, especially when it’s as clearly and eloquently presented as Mark’s blog. Stay tuned to his blog Temple of the Seven Golden Camels for further lessons.
The Baxton Benefict Auction at CalArts this past weekend was a huge success, raising over $32,000, which will be going directly towards Larry Baxton’s care and rehabilitation. Between this and the Fyn Stec auction held earlier this year, the animation community has shown that it really knows how to come together when it counts. Definitely something that we can all be proud of.
AWN has a good INTERVIEW with NY indie Pat Smith. One thing Pat says in there really stood out to me:
The pitching system is a bad system though it works for a lot of people. My friend Tom Warburton pitched and pitched and he finally got a really successful show. But I see many talented artists working very hard pitching shows all the time. If they funneled that kind of energy toward making a film, they might have a little something more to show for it.
I can’t say how much I agree with that sentiment. There are so many artists nowadays who whittle away their careers trying to appease the arbitrary whims of development and network execs who don’t understand the medium. The end result is cartoons which don’t have a personal point of view and that nobody wants to watch. Then there’s people like Pat who are able to find a successful balance between independent and commercial work, and who actually have something to show for their hard work. If and when he decides to go mainstream, not only will he be able to do it on his own terms, but he’ll also have the benefit of a fully developed artistic voice, free of third-party interference, which will result in a much stronger final product.
Paul Grimault, whose feature LE ROI ET L’OISEAU was the subject of discussion HERE last month, also directed a short film in the late-1930s called LES PASSAGERS DE LA GRANDE OURSE. Michael Sporn has a book about this film and he’s posted some beautiful images from it on his BLOG. He writes, “[I]t was important historically because it was the first big French animated production trying to out-Disney Disney.” If we can’t see the actual film, at least we can enjoy these stills.