JERRY BECK: TONIGHT, TOMORROW NIGHT – AND NEXT SATURDAY

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Tonight, I’m showing cartoons at the Janet Klein show at the Steve Allen Theatre. Join us in Hollywood at 8pm!Tomorrow night, Friday September 8th, I’ll be at the opening night festivities for the World 3-D Expo at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. A restored print of POPEYE THE ACE OF SPACE will be screened in 3-D tomorrow night for the first time in 52 years! That film, along with ALL the other Hollywood cartoons released in 3-D (Disney’s Melody, Donald Duck, Casper, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, and others), will be presented next Saturday afternoon, September 16th, in one special program (hosted by yours truly). If you are anywhere near Los Angeles, I urge you to attend this once-in-a-lifetime – never to appear on DVD – show.

Jan Svochak (1926-2006)

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J.J. Sedelmaier sends us this sad news:

I just wanted to let you and others know that Jan Svochak passed away yesterday afternoon. He was 80 years old. Most people know Jan’s work from the years he put in on the Hawaiian Punch campaign. He was the head animator from the 60′s up to the early 90′s. His hand also steered the design consistency.Jan Svochak was born in Czechoslovakia, moved to the U.S. in the 30′s and then returned to Europe to fight in WWII (he was in the tank corps that liberated Dachau). After the war, he worked at Famous Studios in NYC and assisted Marty Taras on series like Baby Huey, Little Audrey, and Herman & Katnip. He also freelanced for Pelican Films, Byron Rabbitt, Zanders, Perpetual Motion Pictures, Buzzco, Ink Tank, Jumbo, and here at JJSP. While at Perpetual Motion Pictures, Jan, Candy Kugel, (i think Vinnie Caffarelli) and Russel Calabrese did the “Mr. Hipp” series of cartoons for NBC’s Saturday evening “Weekend” program in the early 1970′s, a precursor to SNL. He, his wife Cheryl and their two sons had recently moved to Florida. He’ll be terribly missed. . .

Addendum from Buzz Potamkin:

I was very saddened to read of Jan’s passing; he was truly a prince among animators.It was more than 30 years ago when I first brought Jan to Perpetual, at the time BBDO took over the Hawaiian Punch account and brought Punchie back to life. Jack Zander had always touted his talents to me, but didn’t prepare me for the wisdom and wit that came along with Jan.His belief in his art and craft were such that soon I got to know Punchie as a real live entity; the agency creative group soon got tired to me saying “Punchie wouldn’t do that” when Jan grumbled about some piece of business or another. And that belief in his characters went beyond commercials.Mr. Hipp grew out of a joke from Reuven Frank at NBC News. He was brought to life by Hal Silvermintz’s design and direction – and also by Jan’s ready identification with the character. For nearly 5 years, and 26 or so shorts, Jan breathed life into the character – true animation (“bringing to life”). Hal and I may have written them (with help from Reuven), and David Morris, Vinnie Caf, or others may have had input, but I always knew that Jan would straighten it out and make it work for Mr. Hipp.Jan was one of the true princes, and I for one will miss him.

Candy Kugel (of Buzzco) sent in these memories:

May I add a couple of words about Jan Svochak? Jan Svochak came to Perpetual Motion Pictures around the time it was expanding its offices on E. 48th Street. By the time the office space and personnel doubled, he was put on permanent staff, and he and I were placed in adjacent cubicles behind the ink and paint department. We had to share a telephone, so there was a little window cut into the plasterboard where we could pass the receiver from desk to desk. I was the youngest (and only female) animator there – Jan was a veteran. To say we had different outlooks on life would be an understatement. His favorite story, usually repeated when I brought tour groups of young students around, was his beginning at the inbetween department of Famous Studios. He said that on that first day, he started with another young man. They sat next to each other and, sweating bullets, attempted to make the inbetweens of a seemingly endless folder of extreme drawings. Came lunch time, this other young man adjusted his necktie, put on his jacket, wiped his brow and said, “I’m leaving”. Jan imagined that he became a great success in some other field. And he would end with this piece of advice: “Get out of this racket!”But despite his gruff manner, we became good friends. He taught me about physics (watch the weight!) and through his listening to Danny Stiles (we also shared the radio) I was introduced to standards of the 40′s and 50′s, including our favorite, Spike Jones. We were both working on the Weekend pieces – Buzz was right, I generally did not work on the Mr. Hipps (there were a couple of exceptions when deadlines were tight) but was responsible for the “other” one-minute piece for the month – but as we both had the same rhythm of work due, found camaraderie in that.
After Perpetual was no longer “perpetual” and we formed Buzzco Associates, Jan continued to work with us until poor health made that impossible. After that, he and I found ourselves on the Annuity and Welfare Board of Local 644 (who took over the the animation union after Screen Cartoonists 841 folded). No matter how frail, Jan was always in there kicking– his keen mind never losing focus. His memory never failed him. He came to many of our Christmas parties and continued to talk to Vinny and me by telephone. I find it hard to believe that these calls won’t happen again. My heart goes out to Cherie and the kids.

Check out one of the first HAWAIIAN PUNCH commercials from 1961 (though this one was animated by Rod Scribner).

From the Chinese Twilight Zone Dep’t.

Apparently one of the negative side effects of Communism is that it destroys your ability to discern between good and bad animation. How else to explain this bizarro-world story? The Animation Guild blog found an article in the HINDU TIMES that says GARFIELD: A TALE OF 2 KITTIES has become the highest-grossing animated feature of all-time in China with $5.8 million (US) in its first three weeks. THE LION KING had been the box office champ for the past twelve years with a gross of $5.12 mil (US). Pixar’s new film CARS opened recently with $1.35 million in China which means it’s unlikely to overtake GARFIELD at the box office.

MIKE JUDGE’S NEW FILM

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We don’t usually review live action films on CARTOON BREW, but I just saw Mike Judge’s latest feature film, IDIOCRACY, and had to comment. Not so much about the film – a hilarious and scathing satire on the “dumbing down of America” – but about the way 20th Century Fox has dumped it into a release without ads (OK, there was a small one in Friday’s LA Times), no publicity, and no reviews (OK, the L.A. Times gave it a rave in Monday’s paper, four days after its opening date).The story concerns a government experiment that sends a boneheaded private and clueless prostitute 500 years into the future, where everything has been so dumbed down the soldier now finds himself the smartest person in the world. Water has been replaced by Gatorade and Starbucks sells sex and everyone has a UPC code tattooed to their wrists. It’s a more accurate prediction of our future than anything Star Trek or H.G. Wells could imagine. And it’s really funny.I’m afraid, like THE SWEATBOX and CATS DON’T DANCE, that this film will be gone by Friday. If you’re interested in laughing – a lot – go see it today or tomorrow before they pull it from release. I’m sure the film will end up, like Judge’s first live action effort OFFICE SPACE, a cult item on DVD. But I, my wife and a friend had a great time with it last night on the big screen – and we highly recommend it.

FINE ARTS FILMS

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You’ve seen John Wilson’s work, but may not know his name. Wilson has had an amazing career, starting at David Hand’s studio in England in the 1940s and quickly making his mark at UPA and Disney during the early 50s. His pioneering film PETROUSHKA (pictured above) was a landmark of made-for-TV animation. He went on to co-found Asifa-Hollywood and direct the feature SHINBONE ALLEY. His biggest claim to fame are the animated music videos he did for THE SONNY AND CHER SHOW and the opening titles for GREASE.Wilson is still alive and working, in semi-retirement. I just found out that his company, Fine Arts Films, has a website that features his story, a gallery, and film clips. Check it out – a remarkable career, a remarkable man.

SILENT CLOWNS

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The Silent Clowns Film Series in New York City is beginning its 10th season with a program featuring silent cartoons on Sunday, October 8 at 2pm in the auditorium of the New-York Historical Society. Cartoons scheduled include Fleischer’s Koko the Clown in KOKO’S EARTH CONTROL (above left), Winkler’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in SICK CYLINDERS (above right), Sullivan/Messmer’s Felix the Cat in TWO LIP TIME, plus a live re-creation of Windsor McCay’s GERTIE THE DINOSAUR vaudeville act. All cartoons are scheduled to have live piano accompaniment. It’s not often there’s an opportunity to see films like this on a big screen with an audience and live music in the New York area, so one hopes a good turnout will encourage them to schedule more cartoons.(Thanks, Russell Handelman)

The Sad Story of a Sad-Looking Film

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First, watch the TRAILER for this independent CG feature called TUGGER: THE JEEP 4X4 WHO WANTED TO FLY. Then, go and read this story in the ORLANDO SENTINEL about how this became the independent animated feature from hell, thanks to the film’s director, animation veteran Jeffrey Varab. What isn’t mentioned in the article is that Varab probably convinced a lot of investors to part with their money by selling this as a “Christian” project. The Christian aspect of the story comes out in the article’s comments section as well as in this post from the blog of SENTINEL film critic Roger Moore. I find it odd that the SENTINEL decided not to discuss the obvious religious aspect of the scam, especially because it’s so obvious. Even the name of Varab’s studio – Genesis Orlando – makes it evident that his whole idea was to find Christian financial backers.

UPDATE: Erif Graf writes:

I was reading the Tugger article, and I was wondering if you caught the significance of the name Iake Eissinmann. That’s the child star who played Tony in Disney’s “Escape to Witch Mountain.” He’s done a lot of voiceover work as well.

MINUSCULE

After ANT BULLY, I was certain that I never wanted to see another piece of CG animation with insects in it. That was until I saw this short film on YouTube called MINUSCULE. Conceptually, it is one of the freshest bits of animation I’ve seen in a while. The insect designs are a cross between realistic/cartoon, their environment is live-action, and the gags are pure cartoon. It’s difficult to describe because while the gags are timed very cartoony, the overall feel is more naturalistic than your average cartoon. The results are laugh-out-loud funny and the short works on every level. (Be sure to turn up the volume because the sfx are excellent as well.)

I was so impressed that I decided to find out exactly what this is. Turns out that MINUSCULE is a TV pilot co-created by Hélène Giraud (production design) and Thomas Szabo (direction). The show has been picked up and they’re currently creating 78 dialogue-less 6-minute shorts chronicling the adventures of the entire insect kingdom. The production company is France’s Futurikon and the series is slated to air in the US on Disney Channel. If the rest of the episodes hold up to the quality of this pilot, I think we’re in for something special.

Watch the MINUSCULE pilot below:

(Thanks, Peter Gelderblom)

Barrier on ANIMATION BLAST #9

Esteemed animation historian Michael Barrier has commented on his website about the John Sibley article in the new ANIMATION BLAST #9. Here’s what he says:

So far I’ve read Pete Docter’s piece on John Sibley, the Disney animator, in Animation Blast, and it’s an outstanding piece of work – lots of good research (I shared with Pete excerpts from some of my interviews, as I’ve done with Amid and John Canemaker and other writers I respect), wrapped up in an article that conveys extremely well Sibley’s strengths as an animator and his characteristics as a person. Pete is himself an animation pro, the director of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., and it’s tremendously encouraging that a leading professional at the leading animation studio has such a strong sense of his medium’s history.

If you want to see what he’s talking about, order your very own copy of BLAST 9 HERE.

NIGHTMARE IN 3-D

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You may have already heard that Disney is re-releasing Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS on October 20th in Disney Digital 3-D (see the trailer here). The film was not originally shot in 3D, but is being digitally manipulated to create a three dimensional version.Animator Joel Fletcher, who worked on the film as an animator, photographed several set ups during production with his own 3-D camera. Since the film is coming out next month in a “converted” 3D version, these photos give an idea of what it might look like – or should look like. They are presented in anaglyph format, so red/blue glasses are required to see the stereo effect. Here is a direct link to Joel’s 3-D Nightmare gallery.UPDATE: Jeff Kurtti comments: “Am I just seeing this? When did Walt Disney Pictures reclaim Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas? For years it has been a Touchstone Pictures-branded release…”

Baxton Benefit Auction Reminder

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This was already mentioned on the Brew last month, but just a reminder that next week (September 9) is the benefit auction for CalArts’s Martha Baxton. All the info can be found HERE. Be sure and check out all the great cartoon items that have been donated for this auction. My favorites are the caricatures of John Lasseter (above) and Tim Burton by ALADDIN director John Musker.

Disney/Dahl Gremlins Are Here

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We mentioned this quite a while back and now it’s finally available: the Dark Horse re-release of Disney’s ultra-rare 1943 children’s book THE GREMLINS, written by Roald Dahl, can be picked up on Amazon for a little over $10. The book has cover art by Mary Blair, interior illustrations by Bill Justice and Al Dempster, and a new introduction by Leonard Maltin, who discusses the history of the book and the unproduced GREMLINS animated feature that Disney was planning to make in the 1940s.

There’s a 13-page preview of the book at the Dark Horse website, as well as an interview with the people involved in this revival. This re-release is also accompanied by new GREMLINS toys (which are previewed in the interview) and a limited 3-issue comic series.

(Thanks, Jason Vanderhill)

THIS IS NOT ED BENEDICT

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See that photo above? It’s not Ed Benedict. I repeat, It’s NOT Ed Benedict. It’s veteran East Coast animator/board artist Don Duga, who worked on a number of the Rankin/Bass projects, among many other things. He’s alive and well so why is everybody using this photo in their posts about Ed Benedict’s passing? Perhaps Don Duga has become the new official symbol to represent an animation artist’s death? It’s not as if Duga and Benedict look anything alike, yet I’ve seen a number of sites using this particular photo of Duga. Two of the more notables are ASIFA-Hollywood’s Animation Archive and this Brazilian newspaper.

I was really curious why everybody is using Duga’s image so I did a bit of searching around and it turns out that when you type in “Ed Benedict” into Google Images, this photo of Duga comes up with the caption “Legendary Animator Ed Benedict.” If you go to the actual website where the photo is hosted, it’s very clearly labelled Don Duga, but if you simply take the photo from Google Images without looking at the actual page, you’ll end up wrongly believing that it’s Benedict. An important lesson that we can all here is that letting Google Images do your homework for you will get you busted every time. And plus, you’ll confuse poor Don Duga and make him think he’s dead. For the record, here’s what the older Ed Benedict looked like:

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Jordan Reichek remembers Ed Benedict

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Director/animator Jordan Reichek, who was friends with Ed Benedict, has posted a nice tribute to Ed on his blog, including the Fred and Wilma drawings above, which Ed drew while in his late-80s. Be sure to also check out the rest of Reichek’s fascinating new blog, which focuses on the Disneyland park back when its design and construction was supervised by artists. Nowadays that’d be called Fantasyland.

Uli Meyer on Art Babbitt

Director/animator Uli Meyer sent in the following personal story after I posted the link to the NY TIMES story about Art Babbitt’s second wife. It’s a great read:

In 1986 Dick Williams sent me to LA to work with Art Babbitt in preparation for ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.’ I was 23 years old then and felt like the luckiest guy in the world. When I first met Art at the little studio he was working in at that time, the reception was a bit frosty to say the least. A few days went past and I decided to approach the grumpy great man to ask him what the problem was. Art was very frank with me and said that he just didn’t like the fact that I was German. He continued to tell me about his ex-wife, who survived Auschwitz only because Mengele used her artistic skills to document his sick experiments. I don’t know how to describe the way this made me feel. I was born way after the Nazi regime disappeared, but still, the history of the country I was born in kept (and still keeps) haunting me. I tried to explain to Art that the Germans of my generation are fully aware of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and that we are all trying to live a normal life in love and peace, just like everybody else.

Art told me that one of his daughters was at that time an opera singer in Vienna, Austria. He had a real problem with that too, Austria being the birth-place of that Chaplin-moustached mad-man. He was fearing for her well-being, and when I told him there was no need for that, he didn’t really buy it. A few more weeks went past and Art and me became good friends in a mentor-student kind of way. When the 3 months learning from the great, old man were over, I bought him a little good-bye present, which he was visibly moved by. He asked me to stay in touch and the same time said that I should not be surprised if he didn’t answer. The last time I saw him was when he was driving off in this big old, white car and all that was visible was the top of his head and those bony hands on the steering wheel.

I will never forget that precious time with Art and I owe him forever for teaching me and giving me a first hand inside look of an era long gone.

Cheerio and double cheers to Art Babbitt.

MERMAID AND MATCHGIRL AT EL CAP

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Songwriter Alan Menken will join the opening night panel celebrating The Little Mermaid digital restoration at the El Capitan in Hollywood next Thursday. Producer Don Hahn is hosting the event that will include Glen Keane, John Musker and Ron Clements, actress Jodi Benson (Ariel), and Sherri Stoner (live-action reference model for Ariel). The fun begins at 6:30pm and tickets are still available. Disney’s latest 2-D short, The Little Matchgirl, will also be screened that night.