CEREAL OBSESSION

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After old comic books and classic animated cartoons, the number #3 most influential art to aspiring animators has to be on cereal boxes. Especially old cereal boxes from the 1960s. The whole design of the packaging itself was/is inspirational. Just ask Thorsten Hasenkamm or Dan Goodsell or Ridd Sorenson. Their blogs are filled with modern interpretations of old packages (or the actual old boxes themselves).Bob Staake is an incredible commercial artist and children’s book illustrator with an obsession: breakfast cereal. To him, it’s not what the flakes taste like, it’s the box design and the groovy prizes inside. Bob is proposing his own line of cereal, centering his efforts around his iconic product characters. Check out his website for Freebies Cereal.

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And what ever happened to the project Von Kreep (of Kreepsville.com) was doing called Cereal Killers. He had asked illustrators and animation artists to do box covers of “scary” cereals. It was supposed to be out this past summer and I don’t know what happened to it, but a lot of the art is online on various artist blogs, like: Rob Lilly, Johnny Yanok, Ben Balistreri, Kevin Schmid, Gabe Swarr, Brandon Scott, Saxton Moore. This stuff is mighty tasty.UPDATE: Bob MacNeil sent me a link to a list of all the Cereal Killer artists and their contributions to the project.

POTAPYCH: THE BEAR WHO LOVED VODKA

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If you watch just one animated short this week, make it POTAPYCH: THE BEAR WHO LOVED VODKA by Darren Price.

Produced as part of Channel 4′s Mesh program, POTAPYCH is a wonderful little short that works on every level. The film’s style is a delight – a combination of cel-shaded CG characters with painted backgrounds – though what impressed me most was the elegant storytelling, which is fast-paced but never rushed. Price manages to tell a great story with heart in under three minutes – something much harder to do than it looks. (Sidenote: After watching the film, be sure to click on the “Learn More About The Bear” link.)

I believe this is Darren Price‘s first personal short, but he’s also the head of 3D at London’s Nexus Productions, where he’s worked with Smith & Foulkes on numerous spots including Coke’s “Video Game”, Honda’s “Grrr”, and Motorola’s “Grand Classics.”

Potapych

Greatest Soap Commercial Ever

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“A girl finds some soap in the woods that turns her into a slut.”

That’s the description I found for this risque Lux Provocateur soap commercial on No Fat Clips and it does a pretty good job of summing things up. The stop-motion spot, which definitely wasn’t commissioned for American TV, is directed by Chel White at Bent Image Labs. Designer Jim Clark recently posted some of the spot’s conceptual work on his blog.

DO I CREEP YOU OUT?

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Does that creepy guy on the far right look familiar?Yeah, it’s me. You never know where you’ll end up if you let Evan and Gregg Spiridellis take your picture. But I couldn’t be more honored. Al Yankovic is an old friend and the folks at JibJab are my heroes. So when they asked if they could use my mug in the latest Weird Al music video, “Do I Creep You Out”, how did I know they’d actually use it as a mug shot?The video is hilarious – and I’m a star (for about six seconds). Check it out for laughs!

THE SUCCESS OF KIWI!

What’s the most popular piece of animation on the Internet right now? How about KIWI!, a Master’s thesis film by Dony Permedi of School of Visual Arts. The 3-minute, dialogue-less short became a “Featured Video” on YouTube’s front page a few days ago and it connected with audiences in a way that nobody could have expected. It is currently the most linked-to video on the blogosphere according to Technorati.com, it’s in the top 15 all-time favorited videos on YouTube, and it’s racked up nearly two million views in the past week.

That last number is particularly impressive. It’s one thing to talk in the abstract about the Internet and the potential it offers for animated shorts, but KIWI! offers clear proof that an online audience exists for animated shorts. When was the last time anybody heard of a piece of student animation being viewed two million times in a week? Even if the film had screened at dozens of film festivals or been released onto a compilation dvd of shorts, it’s unlikely to have ever achieved such a sizable viewership through traditional short film distribution channels.

KIWI!’s success is part of a much bigger story, which is how the Internet is making animated shorts accessible to mainstream audiences, something that hasn’t happened in the last thirty or forty years. It’s going to take some time until filmmakers figure out models for generating revenue from their shorts online, but with a worldwide audience thirsty for fresh animated content, making money from animated shorts has finally become a matter of when and not if.

Watch KIWI below:

MR. BUG AT MOMA

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Long before Paramount Pictures was affiliated with Nickelodeon Movies… a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… they had an animation studio. And before that, they contracted animated shorts and features from the Max Fleischer studio.Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941) was the second feature film from Fleischer Studios, produced at their state-of-the-art animation facility in Miami Florida. It had the misfortune of not only being produced during a tumultuous rift between brothers Max (the producer) and Dave (the director), but during a period of heated battle between Max and Paramount Pictures. Paramount released the film during the first week of December 1941 and audiences stayed home in droves due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and our imminent entry into World War II.The film has been unjustly neglected for 65 years (so much so its latter day owners forgot to renew the copyright; the film is now in public domain and is widely available with inferior image quality). It was reissued as Hoppity Goes To Town and has become a cult favorite to a younger generation of animators and animation buffs. On New Year’s Day 2007, Mr. Bug Goes to Town will be presented at The Museum of Modern Art. If you live in, or are visiting New York City during the holidays, I urge you to GO!Here’s one reason why: The Museum has one of the only existing original Technicolor prints (with its Paramount logos and original titles intact). Most of the bad dubs on video (and the Internet) are so far from its original intended presentation, it’s pathetic. This print was shown at LACMA (L.A.’s equivalent of MoMA) several years ago and it absolutely blew my mind. The film was meant to be seen in a theater, and the vibrant colors of this print show it to be on par with anything Disney did during the same period. You’ve got two chances, Monday, January 1st at 11:00am and 2:00pm.The film also has a clever story, wonderful songs (by Frank Loesser, Hoagy Carmichael and Sammy Timberg) and great animation – and it’s a great way to start the new year.

ANIMATION IN PRINT

PES's GAME OVER

One of the unlikeliest sources for quality animation writing nowadays is PRINT MAGAZINE. Their September/October issue had two smart pieces worth mentioning. The first was an article by John Canemaker about the OpenEnded Group, a NY-based trio of artists who are combining CGI, artificial intelligence, real-time graphics and installation art. It’s the type of experimental work one imagines Fischinger, Lye and McLaren would have been doing if they’d lived in the 21st century. The second piece is an informative profile of New York stop-motion director PES, whose latest spot I mentioned in yesterday’s TV commercial roundup. The PES article is posted on the PRINT website and it’s worth a read.

BREW HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: SILLY SYMPHONIES

The first in a series of holiday gift-giving suggestions from your pals at Cartoon Brew.sillybooksmall.jpgEditor Piera Patat of La Cineteca Del Friuli heard my plea and sent me a review copy of Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series which was published in Italy last month.My high expectations for this long awaited tome were more than met. Merritt and Kaufman’s Silly Symphonies is a must-have reference for everyone, from Disney aficionados to aspiring animators, anyone interested in animation history. The Silly Symphonies were a significant stepping stone in the aesthetic progression of animated cartoons in general, and Disney’s artistic growth in particular.This book documents each and every film in the series with facts, commentary and detailed minutiea. Full credits, from studio drafts, crediting animators with their specific scenes along with working titles, complete voice credits, length (by footage), negative costs, TV premiere dates, musical credits and my favorite bit of trivia: what feature films each Silly opened with in its initial New York (usually at Radio City Music Hall) and Los Angeles (usually the Loews State or Grauman’s Chinese) theatrical engagements.sillydvd.jpgThe filmography takes up half the book, the other sections include a lengthy introduction detailing the history of the series, how it changed as Disney moved from one distributor to another, what influenced the stories the series told and how the Sillies were used to train Disney’s staff for eventual feature production. Appendicies detail Unfinished Symphonies, a discography, a bibliography of licensed childrens books based on the series and further information on offshoots like Hot Chocolate Soldiers (a Silly Symphony created for MGM’s 1934 feature Hollywood Party).It’s all here. Each film is illustratred with several rare images, however if I had one quibble with the book, it’s that I wish they had used more original art, production stills, pressbook and poster images over certain frame enlargements used here. It’s hard to complain though – the book is a necessity, a first class piece of research. Editor Patat informs me that Indiana University Press will be distributing the book in the U.S. (though it’s not listed on their website, nor on amazon, yet).While you’re waiting, I highly recommend pre-ordering Walt Disney Treasures – More Silly Symphonies which goes on sale December 19th. This second volume contains the rest of the Silly Symphonies series not already released on DVD – including several never before released on video in any format (Hell’s Bells and Cannibal Capers are two notorious titles rarely seen since their original theatrical release). The films have been completely restored and several cartoons have audio track commentary by the likes of Leonard Maltin, J.B. Kaufman, Daniel Goldmark, Ross Care, Dave Gerstein, Richard Sherman and me. The book and the DVD set make a killer combination of cartoon greatness. Highly Recommended!

TV Commercial Roundup

Here’s a few recent animated TV spots that have caught my attention:

Orange Kids

Orange “Kids” – “Spot 1” | “Spot 2”: These spots for European cell provider Orange take conventional children’s-style drawings and add dimensionality to them. Antoine Bardou-Jacquet of Partizan directed, with Buf responsible for the animation production.

Orange spot by Pes

Orange “Hide N Seek”: Another Orange spot, this one by New York director PES, who is seemingly incapable of producing anything but amazing work.

Honda Tetris spot

Honda Jazz “Tetris”: I thought this German commercial was brilliant until I saw this old SIMPSONS clip, which is way too close for comfort. It’s still an effective visually-driven concept; too bad ad agencies have to “borrow” their ideas from animated TV series.

Kymco

Kymco Motorcycles: Beautiful spot by Spanish studio AÄB. This is the type of stylized art direction that I’d love to see in a CG feature some day; I’m not holding my breath though.

Nike commercial

Nike “Snow” | “Wind” | “Rain”: A spare yet evocative winter ad campaign by Brazilian Nando Costa. Motionographer has a short interview with Costa about the production of these spots.

ESURANCE SPOTS CONFUSING?

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The Esurance animated commercials – produced by Ghostbot and Wild Brain – look great, but are they good at selling car insurance? Ad critic Seth Stevenson doesn’t think so and he’s penned a lengthy complaint on SLATE about these commercials:

On the Esurance Web site, you can watch an ad that shows Erin battling robots in a Wild West shoot’em-up; another where she clashes with ninjas who are breaking into an art museum; and still others that I just don’t get at all. Yes, in each spot the dialogue makes salient points about the benefits of Esurance. But those confusing, busy plotlines drown out the message. While we’re hearing this: “At Esurance, if we can’t give you the best deal we’ll show you where you can – and help you buy the policy right away,” we’re seeing this: a robot, in a cowboy hat and duster, firing a machine gun at a woman with pink hair. Wha?

(Thanks, Weston)

HAPPY FEET IS NOW STOP MOTION

This sentence in the Associated Press review of HAPPY FEET should raise a few eyebrows: “So the goodhearted Mumble is nonetheless a total outcast – though he should be the most popular guy on the iceberg with Savion Glover providing his tap moves behind the scenes through stop-motion animation.” I’ll start worrying when reviewers start labeling HAPPY FEET as 2D animation.

(Thanks, David Smedberg)

BLACK CARTOONS ON REFREDERATOR

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The theme this week on ReFrederator.com is animated shorts built around racial stereotypes. Our buddy Emru Townsend of fps magazine is providing the guest commentary for the cartoons, which he’s calling “Black Comedy”. Emru writes:

It’s nowhere near the kind of comprehensive look at the topic that I’d like, but hopefully it’ll provide a jumping-off point for discussion.

The cartoons available for download include the very first Looney Tunes – SINKIN’ IN THE BATHTUB, Ub Iwerks’ LITTLE BLACK SAMBO, Tex Avery’s ALL THIS AND RABBIT STEW, a Famous Studios Bouncing Ball cartoon JINGLE JANGLE JUNGLE and Van Beuren’s very odd Tom & Jerry-in-blackface PLANE DUMB (featuring the voices of forgotten vaudeville comedians Miller and Lyles). They don’t make ‘em like this anymore – and never will again. Take a look, then discuss the pros and cons on ReFrederator.

1920 GRIM NATWICK MOVIE ADS

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Our friend Leslie Cabarga purchased several bound volumes of old newspapers from San Francisco years ago, and was going through them this weekend for inspiration when he came across several movie ads signed by “Natwick”. Yes, these vintage movie ads (click on image above for large version of them) were drawn by future Betty Boop/Snow White/UPA master animator Grim Natwick. They are from 1920 when Natwick was 30 years old. Grim most likely did the distinctive hand lettering in the ads as well. Note his harum girl for the Virgin of Stamboul, demonstrating his reputation for drawing beautiful girls. Grim passed away at age 101 in 1990, having applied his talents to many classic animated films and sharing his wisdom to several generations of animators.

ANIMATORS ON TALK SHOWS

Check out this stomach-churning talk show appearance by Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein, creators of Comedy Central’s animated series DRAWN TOGETHER. It’s from an episode of REALITY REMIX which aired last week on Fox Reality channel. (WARNING: Don’t click the above link if you’re offended by vomit.) Between this and last Friday’s appearance of FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane on the LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON, one would think that the animation industry is populated entirely by talent-deprived, unfunny hacks. It’s not often that animation artists get air time and it’s annoying that when they do, it’s always the lowest representatives of the art form. At least on German talk shows, they get Andreas Deja. See below:

NEW SIMPSONS MOVIE TRAILER

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The new SIMPSONS MOVIE trailer premiered last night on Fox during a new episode of the TV series. Watch it HERE. With all the recent animated features, it’s smart marketing strategy on Fox’s part to use the show’s animation technique as a way of distinguishing the SIMPSONS from the pack. The fact that the SIMPSONS is hand-drawn is, of course, hardly a revelation to animation folk, but as I’ve repeatedly witnessed first-hand, the average moviegoer can’t differentiate between hand-drawn and CG animation so this trailer should play quite effectively to general audiences. Those of us in animation can chuckle at the irony that the SIMPSONS portion of the trailer is also loaded with CG elements (the machinery and wrecking ball both appear to be CG).

GASOLONE ALLEY

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I love when newspaper comic strips do crossovers and this weeks continuity of GASOLINE ALLEY is a particular treat. Walt Wallet visits the “Old Comics Home” and has a reunion with the likes of Smokey Stover, Joe Palooka, Steve Canyon, The Little King, and Albert Aligator. But that’s not all. Animated stars Felix the Cat, Betty Boop, Farmer Al Falfa, Mighty Mouse and Tom Teriffic show up in cameo. Even ancient characters Old Doc Yak and the Yellow Kid get into the act. Start here (Nov. 7th) and read forward to today’s strip. I’m not sure how many more days this will continue, but it’s sure nice to see.

Predicting the Oscars

Never Like The First Time

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER published a couple pieces recently about ’06 Oscar predictions for animated features and animated shorts. Jerry and I are both quoted liberally in the pieces and we offer our predictions as do others like the Animation Guild’s Kevin Koch and Acme Filmworks producer Ron Diamond. The interview was conducted a while back and at the time I didn’t know that Satoshi Kon’s PAPRIKA had also qualified for the animated feature Oscar. Not a whole lot of people are aware of Kon’s film at the moment, which really hurts its chances, but you have to assume that it stands a good shot of an Oscar nod if people actually have a chance to see it. Also, for the animated shorts, I recently found out that Don Hertzfeldt’s new short EVERYTHING WILL BE OK, Bruce Alcock’s AT THE QUINTE HOTEL and Jonas Odell’s NEVER LIKE THE FIRST TIME qualified. These are all superb animated shorts and I hope Academy voters don’t overlook them in favor of this year’s batch of typical (and in my opinion, much blander) mainstream studio shorts from Disney (THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL), Pixar (LIFTED), Blue Sky (NO TIME FOR NUTS) and DreamWorks (FIRST FLIGHT).

Interviews With Indie Filmmakers

Guilherme Marcondes's Tyger

Directors Notes is a weekly audio podcast that interviews indie filmmakers who create short films, docs, music videos, art films, etc. The site doesn’t focus exclusively on animation, though so far they have solid interviews with Brazilian animator Guilherme Marcondes of TYGER fame and Japanese filmmakers Takeshi Nagata and Kazue Monno who are responsible for LIGHTNING DOODLE PROJECT [PIKAPIKA]. This is one podcast I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on.

(via Motionographer)

Piccolo, Saxo and Company

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What is it with The Weinstein Company? Harvey Weinstein is perhaps the smartest and savviest of the current Hollywood moguls, but his taste in animated films leaves much to be desired. Last year he launched his new company with the low budget (but clever) Hoodwinked, then fumbled with the British import Doogal. Now this? Weinstein’s art house competitors, such as Sony Pictures Classics (Triplettes of Belleville, Paprika, Persepolis), Warner Independent (Scanner Darkly) and even his previous studio Miramax (Renaissance), have picked up challenging adult animated features that push the envelope. Weinstein has apparently bought into the stereotype that animated films are childrens films – not family films, children’s films. He leaves on the table over a dozen brand new, more sophisticated international animated features (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Princess and everything being shown next week at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema) that are more deserving of U.S. distribution.Weinstein’s latest acquisition, Piccolo, Saxo and Company, is a French production, with animation produced in Romania and plot ripped from Paul Tripp’s Tubby The Tuba:

The film tells the story of a far away planet on which musical instruments live. Marco Villamizar’s tale follows Piccolo, Saxo and other brass and string instruments that band together to form a grand symphonic orchestra. The group goes on a quest to find musical notes and other instruments stolen by an evil doctor who dreams of building the perfect instrument.

Weinstein will no doubt dress Piccolo up with an all-star American voice cast and give it a token theatrical release en route to its permanent home on DVD racks at Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, etc. I have nothing against well made animated films for children (Curious George was a fine example), but animators need more visionary distributors who will expose U.S. audiences to the great work being produced around the world. Weinstein, Miramax, Lionsgate, Sony, Fox Searchlight and the others do a fine job with handling live action foreign films. Their animated siblings are waiting to be adopted.I’ve given this rant before. And I probably will again. Maybe one of these days I’ll end up doing something about it myself.

MEGAN BRAIN’S PAPER SCULPTURES

Paper Sculpture by Megan Brain

For most artists, paper is an expendable material that one creates their art on, but Megan Brain’s paper sculptures show that the paper itself can be transformed into a piece of art as well. While the art of paper sculpture is nothing new, Megan brings an appealing cartoon sensibility to the practice that I haven’t seen before. The closest thing that I can compare her work to are the characters from the early-60s Disney short A SYMPOSIUM ON POPULAR SONGS though that cartoon never pushed it quite as far design-wise. Brain recently contributed her distinctive paper sculpture skills to Henry Selick’s feature CORALINE, which is being produced at Laika. See more of her delightful work at MeganBrain.com (see if you can find the Craig Kellman piece) and meganbrain.blogspot.com.

Paper Sculpture by Megan Brain

FOUR-LETTER FILM

F*CK: THE DOCUMENTARY

This Friday, November 10, marks the opening of F*CK: A DOCUMENTARY, which examines the origin and uses of a certain word. Besides interviews with numerous celebrities, the film also features animated sequences by Bill Plympton. Additionally, Plympton’s animated short, GUIDE DOG, will screen in front of the film, though a more appropriate animated short would have perhaps been Fred Crippen’s IMPROVING COMMUNICATIONS (2004), which is a comedic look at the many ways to use this particular word. The film is opening in LA and NY before expanding to other cities. In NY, it’ll play at the Quad Cinema (34 West 13th St., New York NY) while LA folks can check it out at Landmark’s NuArt Theatre (11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles CA). Upcoming cities and additional details can be found at the film’s website FourLetterFilm.com.